South Africa: Solution to rhino killings lies in hi-tech

by Feb 22, 2012Rhinos

Diceros — a partnership between wildlife monitor Wildlife ACT and Stone Holdings, a security design company — has unveiled its technological solution to the poaching surge in SA


Published: 2012/02/22 07:19:34 AM

UNTIL now, SA has been trying to solve the rhino poaching problem with everything but technology, says Dr Simon Morgan, a founding member of Wildlife ACT.

Yesterday, Diceros — a partnership between wildlife monitor Wildlife ACT and Stone Holdings, a security design company — unveiled its technological solution to the poaching surge in SA.

Rhino poaching, which has been escalated since 2007, saw a 34% increase between 2010 and last year. This year, more than 50 rhino have been killed for their horns, used in traditional medicine in Asian countries.

“Most solutions are reactive, waiting for the gun shot, trying to find people and prosecute them,” Dr Morgan said. “It’s not working. We need to demarcate an area and stop people from crossing that boundary.”

Yesterday, the South African company held a demonstration, showing off its various technology solutions. These included radar technology used by the US military, visual and thermal cameras, perimeter detection devices, communications interceptors, unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned ground sensors.

“It is not like a normal house alarm,” Stone Holdings director Leslie Steenkamp said yesterday. “We’re not interfering with the animal, but keeping the environment around it sterile and using hi-tech equipment to do that.”

But such equipment will not come cheap. Dr Morgan said: “You’re not going to be about to protect an area without putting in resources…. It’s in the millions (of rand), not thousands .”

The “Rolls-Royce” option would cost R5m -R10m, “depending on what units are included”.

A number of factors determined the cost of the system, Dr Morgan explained. These included the size of the reserve, the terrain — for example, if the landscape was hilly, it would not be possible to use radar — and whether there was a common boundary with another reserve using the technology.

Mr Steenkamp said the technology could detect humans, vehicles and ” even pick up a snare”.

“At 12km, we can differentiate between a man and a woman, because of the way they walk.” Diceros could either train personnel or offer the full service.

Dr Morgan said there was a great deal of interest in the anti-poaching surveillance solution.

“We have successfully negotiated a pilot project with another African government … and a number of private owners are showing interest,” he said.

However, Dr Morgan highlighted that anti-rhino poaching was not the only application of this system. “Everyone is focusing on rhino, which is important and a key factor, but people aren’t aware of the bush meat trade, and we’re also losing other game as well, vultures, cheetahs, wild dogs. It’s completely unsustainable.”

He said it could also be used on coastal lines to stop abalone poaching and secure farms. “This technology exists, we just need to implement it.”

SANParks yesterday said it would not comment on specific technologies, because it did not want to compromise its security. “SANParks welcomes innovations and anything else that could combat poaching, and would like anyone who comes up with new solutions to approach SANParks,” corporate communications head Wanda Mkutshulwa said.