24 March 2017

South Africa: No More Drop-Offs for Poachers

Skukuza — The Kruger National Park (KNP) is tightening security at its southern gates in an attempt to protect rhinos and prevent poachers from accessing the park.

Speaking during a media tour, which is underway in the KNP, South African National Parks (SANParks) Chief Ranger Nicholas Funda said the park has picked up that some poachers enter the area as guests and get dropped off.

"We realised that the gates became our weakest point... Some of the poachers are paying at the gate as guests. For example, when they come in, there are four of them in a vehicle and on the way out, there is only the driver.

"We call them 'drop-offs'. Drop-offs are a problem because we can't track their spoor in the veld," Funda said.

As part of the gate access control system, guests who visit the KNP will be expected to produce a permit, the vehicle registration will be checked against the vehicle disk, the number of people in the vehicle will be checked against the permit, whether guests are staying for the day or overnight.

The new security measure is expected to be implemented in about a month. The gate access control system will be implemented at the northern gates at KNP at a later stage.

According to figures released recently by Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, a total of 662 rhino carcasses were found in the KNP last year, compared to 826 in 2015. This represents a reduction of 19.85% in 2016.

A total of 148 firearms were seized inside the park in 2016, and six just outside the park.

Wide area surveillance

As the KNP continues to fight against rhino poaching, it is using a wide area surveillance system known as the Postcode Meerkat.

According to the KNP, the Postcode Meerkat comprises a suite of radar and electro-optic sensors that detect, classify, monitor and track humans moving in the park over a wide area.

"Phase one in our operations is protection and identification of the criminal, phase two is tracking of the criminal and phase three is reaction. We need to arrest them and stop them from killing our rhinos," SANParks Technical Operations Manager Mark McGill said.

When deploying the system, the operator looks at the history of the area, rhino density and also speaks to field rangers to find out what is happening on the ground.

He said when using the system, the operator needs to decide what they will interrogate based on the behaviour which will be determined by movement.

Unnatural movement is usually indicated by a straight line while animal movement is all over the place.

McGill said the system gives the KNP an added advantage, as it can show the operator more or less where the poacher is going and rangers can be positioned to arrest them.

"We are fighting to protect our rhinos -- that is our objective. For every rhino that we can save, it's a success. We don't only want the poachers in handcuffs, we want the rhinos to be safe so we are trying to get to the poacher before he can get to the rhino," he said.

The system was launched in December and has been designed to be mobile.

McGill said the system has been very successful in the operations, as it has had a 90% success rate. The KNP is hoping to have three wide area surveillance systems by 2019.

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