DURBAN, A United States-funded Tactical Joint Operation Centre, also known as the Nerve Centre, has been launched at the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park on the northern coast of South Africa’s kwaZulu-Natal Province to combat poaching and other illegal activities.

South African police and highly-trained wildlife rangers are part of the programme. which will seek to fight the scourge of poaching the animals for their horns. Last year, 222 rhino were poached for their horns in KwaZulu-Natal Province alone.

The Nerve Centre will allow reactions, operations and planning to be linked with other rhino reserves. Among other things, it boasts animal tracking, intelligence camera traps, co-ordination map that shows activities in the park and image recognition.

Handing over the high-tech centre to the local wildlife authorities this week, the US Consul-General in KwaZulu-Natal, Sherry Zalika Sykes, says they are hoping to see an increased population of healthy rhino. She says they are also hoping it will provide much-needed information that will lead to arrests and successful prosecutions.

The need to have a comprehensive system that brings all those different forms of information together so that in real time we can catch poachers and traffickers of wildlife so that they can be adequately prosecuted and deter the poaching in the first place through effective prosecution. That prevents (poaching) when people know that the comprehensive system are watching. It’s not just one ranger, it’s not just one helicopter.

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park manager Jabulani Ngubane, describing how the centre will work, said: Basically the nerve centre is the heartbeat of the operation like for instance we have copied the SANDF (South African National Defence Force) style whereby we have to co-ordinate everything that we do.

“You need to know where your guys are at a particular moment and be able to direct them because you will remember that some of the operations happens at night so that it doesn’t happen but also increases your chances of your success as well.

The park has the highest number of rhino. All white rhino population in the world reportedly come from this park.

Acting Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Chief Executive Officer Bheki Khoza has heaped praise on the US for funding the centre. He says it will provide much-need support to fighting the scourge of rhino poaching.

Improving our communications to assist our field-based law enforcement staff and also it will provide connectivity and also connectivity with various picket camps and outposts in the park and other agencies like SAPS (South African Police Service) and our conservation agencies like SA National Park and it will assist in co-ordination of the information and networking.

The Peace Parks Foundation has provided technical support to the project as well as technology. The foundation’s chief executive, Werner Myburgh, says the project needs to be applied across all parks, especially in areas close to international borders.

The reality is that poaching won’t stop necessarily. The poachers and criminals will take their business elsewhere because it’s lucrative and they make a lot of money. The only solution to that is to get better in your anti-poaching efforts. So in a long term you will be able to expand this type of support that is being given not only to one park, one big park but to many parks.

The same programme was also launched in South Africa’s most famous and visited national park, the Kruger National Park, in 2015 and is said to be bearing fruit.