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As custodian of key White and Black Rhino populations, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has protected these iconic species and many of our country’s other natural assets for decades.
The recent shift in focus by organised crime and wildlife trafficking syndicates has resulted in tremendous pressure being exerted on Ezemvelo.
While they could forecast a potential displacement of poaching from other areas and prepare accordingly, the intensity with which Ezemvelo, and specifically Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP), has been targeted over the past year, was not something that could be predicted.
While field staff kept up the front line, the dramatic increase in rhino poaching, coupled with the impact thereof on their staff, have necessitated Ezemvelo’s top brass discussing even more effective anti- poaching and resource management strategies.
Various tactics have been identified to form the focus of resources and time over the next few years.
The first involves an intensive protection zone which will provide more efficient patrolling.
Significant effort will be put towards putting in place structures and systems to solidify joint operation initiatives with national and provincial law enforcement agencies, private rhino owners and other conservation agencies, including South African National Parks.
Rhino poaching syndicates have no regard for boundaries and it is critical that anti-poaching and counter-trafficking operations be aligned across agencies and geographical regions.
Technology as a detection and response tool is increasingly being used to place Ezemvelo a step ahead of poachers, improving effective and rapid mobilisation of available resources and keeping field staff safer
In this regard, Ezemvelo has embarked on a journey with the Peace Parks Foundation to establish HiP as a so-called ‘Smart Park’.
In October this partnership was formalised with the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement through which the Peace Parks Foundation committed more than R10.6-million towards the HiP Smart Park development as part of the rhino protection programme .
Acting Ezemvelo CEO Bheki Khoza said it would be near impossible for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to succeed in its fight against rhino poaching without the involvement of local communities, the general public and private organisations that go out of their way to fund new technologies aimed at fighting rhino poaching.
‘The poaching syndicates are always devising new plans to counter our strategies.
‘I am hopeful that the new integrated, joint operational plan that we are now embarking on will be a game changer.
‘I am not saying that it will totally eradicate rhino poaching, but I know that it will form a critical component of efforts to reduce illegal wildlife crime activities going forward.’
The Smart Park concept entails the deployment of a collection of integrated technology solutions that together create a connected environment to enable seamless collection and consolidation of real-time data from various devices and sensors throughout the Park.
Intelligent surveillance systems, image recognition cameras, digital radios, handheld data collection devices, animal tracking sensors, gate and access control systems, vehicle and aerial response tracking systems are a few of the data sources that will be integrated into the unified technology ecosystem.
The establishment of the Smart Park will also include the provision of a ‘low power wide area network’ with world class internet connectivity for the integration of smart sensors and the speedy transmission of data.
The approach of the agreement between Ezemvelo and Peace Parks focuses on real-time situational awareness and the establishment of a central command and control system for the anti-poaching unit.
All data collected will be packaged and presented through a single, simple web-based application, where artificial intelligence will also be applied to interpret and analyse the data, allowing for quick decision-making and effective tactical planning.
Peace Parks Foundation CEO Werner Myburgh said, ‘The battle against wildlife crime is far from over, and high market prices continue to drive the relentless demand for wildlife products.
‘To stabilise the situation, a sustained multi-pronged approach is required.
‘Technology is one of the many strategies that can play a significant role in preventing the extinction of iconic species such as rhino in the wild.’