Statement by the MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Nomusa Dube-Ncube on the use of digital infrastructure to Rhino Populations
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP): Since the announcement of the lifting of travel restrictions, we have been receiving thousands of telephone calls from tourists from different parts of the province, the country and the globe.
We continue to assure nature lovers and the public at large of unparalleled experience of the wildlife and eco-tourism.
Beautiful weather and the abundance of fauna and flora is what attract domestic and international tourists to KwaZulu-Natal.
The trip to Drakensberg, the South Coast or Northern parts of the province always give our visitors the unique opportunity to climb the valleys and hills overlooking many rivers that run ceaselessly day and night.
UThukela and Umfolozi Rivers have nurtured the nation and continue to be a source of inspiration for this Rainbow nation created by Madiba.
Our greatest gift from God is that this province boasts two World Heritage Sites, game parks and vast land with breath-taking landscape.
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP), situated in KwaZulu-Natal, is often referred to as the ‘birthplace of rhino’ as it was this area where the southern white rhino was saved from the brink of extinction, over half a century ago.
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.
We wish to single out Wildlife Act – Focused Conservation for their sterling efforts in using the state-of-the-art technology to fight rhino poaching.
We convey our gratitude to Mark Gerrard, Managing Director of Wildlife ACT and the rest of the team.
I am pleased by the fact that Mr Gerrard acknowledges that fact that, with shrinking budgets for conservation efforts, and already limited resources being shifted to address other needs during the Covid 19 pandemic, the use of cutting edge technology makes existing operations more efficient.
Critically, on this day, we recommit ourselves as government to ensure that integrated approach is used to protect and conserve the rhino population for future generations.
In my meeting with the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy last week, we undertook to intensify all efforts aimed at protecting our rhino population.
Working with our partners, we have decided to invest in Smart Park connectivity and the integration of systems to ensure early detection and rapid response.
HiP is unique in that it has a large wilderness area which is extremely remote with no management tracks, making patrols difficult.
One of the key instruments being used is the installation of infrared trap cameras linked directly to the Parks Operational Centre.
These cameras using artificial intelligence (AI) identify people and send an immediate alert to the Operations Centre who then rapidly alerts and activates the relevant Reaction Units and associated resources.
We recall that on the night of 06 March this year, an infrared camera detected three armed poaching suspects, and automatically alerted the Operations Centre, providing number of persons, grid reference and direction of the incursion.
The Reaction Unit was immediately briefed and dispatched. The suspects were located in the area and challenged. The Reaction Unit members who came under immediate threat defended themselves which resulted in the two suspects being mortally wounded.
I must hasten to point out that implementation of these smart technologies could not have been done without the long standing support from these key agencies I have highlighted.
They have invested resources, technical support and the channelling of donor funding to these key initiatives. We are hopeful of the decline in poaching losses.
Whilst we are hopeful about the decline in rhino poaching, it must be noted that the pressure on our rhino is ever present.
Working with our partners, Ezemvelo staff will continue with the implementation of these technologies to ensure that critical support is provided to our Operations Team.
Figures have shown that money earned in the illicit animal trade is more than 10 billion US Dollars. Such illegal activities have resulted in the loss of biodiversity and destruction of the ecosystem.
Despite these alarming figures, we wish to commend communities that are working with us to fight rhino poaching.
I must hasten to point out that we will continue with efforts aimed at ensuring that communities benefits from our eco-system.
The Detection Fence
Wildlife ACT and Ezemvelo, with support from key donors Global Conservation and WCN, have partnered to construct a fence, fitted with the latest technology, that detects any incursions or interference along its length. Any attempt made by poachers to enter the park triggers an alert which is automatically sent to Ezemvelo’s control centre.
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.
The fence has electrics both inside and outside its length and 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. Such work has been championed by our rangers such as Dennis Kelly and others.
The fence is being upgraded in phases, with specific sections focused on because of their poaching threat and conservation need. This phased approach is carefully planned to ensure maximum impact, but also to channel poaching effort towards areas where other resources can be deployed more easily.
This work integrates into several other initiatives being carried out by park management such as the Canine unit and wildlife monitoring. This full integration ensures that poaching incidents can be reduced, and the possibility of poacher apprehension is increased.
NB to Editors: Wildlife ACT is a registered Non-Profit Organisation which was established in South Africa in 2010 with a vision to save Africa’s iconic and endangered species from extinction, thereby enabling broad-scale biodiversity conservation.
Through strategic partnerships and sustainable funding models our mission is to:
1. Implement professional and strategic monitoring and research to enable and inform effective conservation management of wildlife;
2. Identify and develop programmes within surrounding communities to support wildlife conservation;
3. Secure existing protected areas and support range expansion of African wildlife.
Source: Government of South Africa