Using technology to fight poaching

[Image] Denel will provide game reserves with the latest technology in surveillance and skills training for rangers, in aid of the rhino crisis in South Africa.
(Image: Denel)

[Image] Rhino Hero revolves around Zama, a rhino, and his efforts to protect his species.
(Image: Rhino Hero)

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South African National Parks (SANParks) and state-owned Denel, the largest arms manufacturer in the country, have signed a memorandum of understanding under which Denel will use its law enforcement technology to assist in the fight against rhino poaching.

The country’s rhino death toll for 2012 currently stands at a shocking 549 – 61 more than the total for the whole of 2011. Out of this figure, 320 were poached in the Kruger National Park, which straddles the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces in the north east of the country.

Figures released by the Department of Environmental Affairs show that more than 1 600 rhino have been killed by poachers over the past five years and on average South Africa is losing one rhino every day and a half.

“We are convinced that this technology will build the ability to detect and deter would-be poachers and provide early warnings to law enforcement officials deployed on the ground,” said Riaz Saloojee, CEO of Denel.

Sophisticated technology for game reserves

Saloojee said that Denel has, over the years, developed highly sophisticated law-enforcement technology for use at home and abroad. The technology is currently used to combat perlemoen (abalone) poaching on South Africa’s west coast. As a result of excessive poaching, perlemoen was declared an endangered species in terms of CITES regulations in 2007, but the status was removed in 2010 when the illegal trade seemed to have subsided.

SANParks spokesperson Wanda Mkutshulwa explained that Denel will provide game reserves with cutting-edge surveillance technology and will also assist in training rangers to operate and interpret data from the technological devices.

Dr David Mabunda, CEO of SANParks, is confident that the latest initiative will help reduce incidences of poaching and keep the numbers of poached rhino down.

“Though we admit that we have lost a few battles, and suffered a few bloody noses, we have no intention of losing this war,” he said. “We will fight until the last man or woman standing to save the nation’s heritage.”

The details of the technology could not be revealed due to security reasons.

Rhinos get their own app

While Denel’s technology will hopefully detect poachers before they get to the rhino, two South Africans are also using modern technology to raise funds and awareness for the same cause.

Anyone with a smartphone or tablet will now be able to download Rhino Hero, an application developed by social entrepreneurs Chris Masters and Alasdair Muller. At present the app works only on Apple devices but will shortly be available for Android.

The pair, who started their company ShortBlackMocca together earlier this year, said that 50% of the proceeds raised from the app’s downloads will be donated to the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), a leading conservation effort that has been at the forefront of the poaching war.

Everyone can be a rhino hero

Rhino Hero revolves around the rhino Zama (isiZulu, meaning “to make an effort”) and his efforts to protect his species. According to Masters, the game was designed to create awareness and drive support by giving people a fun way to interact with the cause, which is close to the hearts of many South Africans.

Zama does not have x-ray vision or super strength, but his strength comes from the people who support his cause.  The player launches Zama into poachers’ camps, driving him to take charge and destroy the camps, one by one, scoring points and going up a level after reaching a certain number of points.

“The beauty lies in the way the game mirrors the Save the Rhino campaign,” said Masters. “One person, or in the case of the game, one rhino, really can make a difference.”

The popularity of apps and the large number of people downloading them regularly through their smart devices inspired the ShortBlackMocca team to focus on this ever-growing market. According to the Apple app store, as many as 25-billion apps have been downloaded through the store, while a further 10-billion were downloaded through Google’s Android app store.

“It was a business opportunity,” said Masters, “but also a way to raise awareness through the types of apps they created.”

Persecution victory

The number of arrests made by South African authorities in relation to rhino poaching so far stands at 222. The recent sentencing of a syndicate member, Thai national Chumlong Lemtongthai, to an unprecedented 40 years in prison, was welcomed by the South African government.

Lemtongthai pleaded guilty to 59 counts in the Kempton Park Magistrate’s Court earlier this month.

Justice minister Jeff Radebe commended the country’s National Prosecuting Authority for their work in bringing Lemtongthai to book.

“Rhino poaching and smuggling threatens the government’s efforts in preserving our environment and economic stability of the country,” said Radebe in a statement.