KZN's 'birthplace of rhino' to get poacher-detecting fence as SA marks World Rhino Day

22 September 2020 - 06:00
The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in KZN will get a 'smart' detection fence to help prevent rhino poaching.
The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in KZN will get a 'smart' detection fence to help prevent rhino poaching.
Image: 123RF/Jacoba Susanna Maria Swanepoel

KwaZulu-Natal's Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP) will receive crucial technology to aid in the fight against poaching.

Wildlife ACT, a non-profit organisation, has partnered with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to construct a fence that detects any poacher incursions or interference at the park as part of a bid to protect rhino populations.

This comes as the animals are under threat again from poaching, and with Tuesday marking World Rhino Day.

“As rhino poaching pressure has escalated over the years, the poaching levels in HiP are currently unsustainable,” said Wildlife ACT in a statement.

The organisation said it had implemented “intensive” protection zones within the network of parks to more “efficiently” patrol critical hotspots and protect core rhino populations within the expansive public conservation space that Ezemvelo was responsible for.

“HiP is unique in that it has a large wilderness area which is extremely remote, with no management tracks, making patrols difficult,” said Wildlife ACT.

“One element of Ezemvelo’s strategy is to increase the use of technology to enable early detection and response, placing Ezemvelo field staff one step ahead of poachers, ensuring effective and rapid mobilisation of anti-poaching teams as well as keeping field staff safer.

“It is under this strategy that Ezemvelo has identified the establishment of a ‘Smart Park’ as a key programme to combat poaching in HiP.”

The detection fence, according to the organisation, ensures that any attempt made by poachers to enter the park triggers an alert which is automatically sent to Ezemvelo’s control centre.

One element of Ezemvelo’s strategy is to increase the use of technology to enable early detection and response, placing Ezemvelo field staff one step ahead of poachers.

“A rapid response team can therefore mobilise without delay, responding to poaching groups before a rhino is killed. This allows efficient use of resources, placing Ezemvelo’s anti-poaching staff one step ahead of rhino poachers, while helping to protect the human capital at the frontlines of the battle against rhino poaching,” said Dennis Kelly, a section ranger in the park.

“The fence has electrics both inside and outside its length. Any tampering or cutting of the fence sends us an immediate message, pinpointing the location of the tamper. Two sections of fence have been upgraded to date and we have already seen a shift in rhino poaching activity away from both areas to sites where there is no detection fence.”

Mark Gerrard, the managing director at Wildlife ACT, said: “With shrinking budgets for conservation efforts, and already limited resources being shifted to address other needs during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is extremely valuable to use technology to make existing operations more efficient.

“Wildlife ACT is proud to be working with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife on this ground-breaking initiative in the province, helping to proactively protect not only these key rhino populations but also support the field teams in their work”.

MEC for economic development, tourism and environmental affairs Nomusa Dube-Ncube commended the two organisations for their initiative aimed at preventing rhino poaching.

“As we observe World Rhino Day, we pause and pay tribute to law enforcement agencies, nature lovers, conservationists who are working with our entity Ezemvelo Wildlife to fight wildlife crime,” she said.

“We wish to single out Wildlife ACT ... for their sterling efforts in using the state-of-the-art technology to fight rhino poaching.”

Meanwhile, the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project is celebrating the birth of at least 13 calves in 2020 on project sites across South Africa and in Malawi.

“We decided to increase the range of black rhino in order to increase growth rate and numbers of the critically endangered species. It started slowly and has taken a lot of hard work and commitment from a lot of partners. Now we are starting to see the results that we hoped for,” said WWF project leader Dr Jacques Flamand.

In August, environment minister Barbara Creecy announced that the number of rhinos killed by poachers in SA had fallen by half in the first six months of the year. However, 166 were slaughtered.

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