Real time protection for rhinos

2018-01-25 15:03
An orphaned rhino being rehabilitated at a boma in Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park before release back to the wild. The rhino has been dehorned to protect it against poachers.

An orphaned rhino being rehabilitated at a boma in Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park before release back to the wild. The rhino has been dehorned to protect it against poachers. (Chelsea Pieterse)

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A new control centre has been opened in Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park in move designed to help counter an “avalanche” of poaching in KwaZulu-Natal.

Last year an unprecedented 222 rhinos were killed by poachers in KwaZulu-Natal and so far this year another 12 have already been slaughtered.

The nerve centre (Hluhlwe iMfolozi Park Tactical Joint Operations Centre) began its operations three months ago.

With funding received from the U.S. as well as the Peace Parks Foundation, the centre has already celebrated several small victories.

The operations room, hidden deep within the park, is the hub of all the park’s anti-poaching efforts.

State-of-the-art technology and equipment has allowed the park to better track their animals and rangers and allow them a full view of the park where poachers can be picked up and caught sometimes even before a rhino is killed.

The new approach includes a central website, or app that constantly updates information on the park and its animals “like a Facebook feed”.

“Everything happens in real time. We can see the patrollers, where the camera traps are, and where the helicopter is flying using this system,” said Carmen van Tichelen, Nerve’s wildlife crime data monitor.

She said that by using the system, they were able to see where and when a rhino had been shot, where the patrollers and rangers were at the time of the shooting and how they reacted to the poaching incident.

She information teaches them how to better their reactions and response times to poaching.

At the official launch of the centre on Wednesday, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife acting CEO Bheki Khoza said reports are received almost daily about poachers being spotted or incidents of poaching in KZN.

Khoza said the centre represented a “new era” in anti-poaching operations. He added that a partnership with the police is also vital to the success of the system.

Significant funding was received from the U.S. consulate for equipment and protective gear.

The system now in operation at Hluhluwe iMfolozi is the same model used in parks in America.

Werner Myburgh of the Peace Parks Foundation said 13 rhino were poached in a year in South Africa in 2007 and from then on the number just escalated.

“In 2013 over 1 200 rhino were poached ... it has been a total rollercoaster,” he said.

He said rhino poaching was increasing by almost 25% annually and Hluhluwe iMfolozi­ is feeling the pressure.

He said the Kruger National Park has adopted a similar system to the Hluhluwe iMfolozi initiative.

“We are not saying we are going to win, we still have a long way to go,” he said.

He added that it was also extremely important to start focusing on consumers and educating those who purchase rhino horns about the effects.

The U.S. Consul Sherry Sykes said KZN is key in the effort to preserve the world’s biodiversity and that wildlife must always be protected.

She referred to the fact that poaching has also cost human lives — both poachers and law enforcement officers have been killed.

Sykes said she was proud of the work being done at the centre and that she was able to work with Ezemvelo and the Peace Parks Foundation.

The system will be going live at other EKZNW parks, and at reserves across the country and all information recorded can be used as evidence in court when prosecuting poachers.

Ezemvelo’s Cedric Coetzee said the centre was started in Hluhluwe because it is the centre of Zululand with a critical population of rhino.

He said out of the rhinos poached last year and this year so far, the most incidents had occurred at the park.

“This system is just the baby. The parents are on the way,” said Coetzee.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  rhino poaching

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