Anti Poaching

Project Ivory

Project Ivory

While sitting comfortably on a bench in the Lions Corner game-viewing hide, hot coffee and rusks setting the tone for a relaxed early morning, we notice a herd of elephants meandering along the riverbank, just below. Their incredible presence leaves many of us mouths agape, silent ‘wow’s balancing on our lips. It doesn’t take long for hushed whispers to break into a conversation on these sentient beings and quickly a lesson on Project Ivory commences.

Elephants have long been under threat of poaching for their ivory tusks. In fact, according to Ivory’s Ghosts by John Frederick Walker, excavations revealed artistic ivory carvings from around the sixth millennium BCE. Traditionally, elephant ivory has been revered for its unique properties which make it easy to carve and sculpt. In many instances, sculptures and artwork are thought of, but many varying products have been unearthed by archaeologists: buttons, chopsticks, spear and bow tips and, an item made of ivory until recently, piano keys. In Asian culture elephant ivory has always held value and been seen as a statement of wealth; at its peak, in the year 2014, the price for ivory was around $2100 per kilo, but by 2017, its value had decreased to $730 for the same quantity.

Kruger National Park: Rangers pull over to show tourists an African Bush Elephant bull

While the decrease in value holds hope for the African Bush Elephant, poaching in the Kruger National Park has seen an increase in recent years. In 2014, two elephants were poached in the Kruger, but this number has multiplied to 71 in 2018; a growth of 3 550%. While this increase is drastic, Chief Ranger, Nicholas Funda, referring to the Kruger National Park, currently home to 19 000 elephants which have an annual growth of 4% (or 760 new additions), said that, while SANParks aims to be proactive in curbing all forms of poaching, their concern is not that elephant poaching will increase uncontrollably, but rather the element of criminality. In an interview in January 2019, Funda said: “What we are concerned with is criminality; we cannot allow criminals to harvest or to steal from the public. That’s our mandate; we are mandated to protect that. I think elephant poaching is going to be ugly. Elephants are easy to see. If poaching gets out of hand, it will be very difficult to curb. Therefore to be pro-active is critical for us.”

Two Rangers walk through the Park on patrol

It was during this interview that Project Ivory was announced to the public. With its main base of operations in Phalaborwa, Limpopo, (where the highest concentration of elephants can be found) Project Ivory aims to prevent poachers from entering the Park at all. In support of these efforts, the Honourary Rangers donated a group of tracker dogs for the northern section of the Park, as well as agreed to sponsor the first horse unit. The seven horses provide a better means of transport for the rangers who have to track wildlife and poachers across the uneven terrain; the horses move quietly, provide a height advantage and are able to move closer to game than a ranger can on foot. In addition, the Honourary Rangers donated the infrastructure required as a Cessna plane will be moved from Skukuza to offer air support. “It becomes very much important for us to become part of this project. We need to mobilise our communities in support of these initiatives.” – Seaparo Sekoati, MEC for the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism, stated.

A large African Bush Elephant

The efforts of the Project Ivory Team and SANParks Rangers will undoubtedly provide valuable support to South Africa’s elephant population within the Kruger National Park. It is imperative for us all to work towards providing protected safe havens for our country’s wildlife and to see groups making progress in the fight against poaching activity is incredible. Read up on the Honourary Rangers and get involved in their projects here.

If you enjoyed this blog, you might like to find out more on the K9 Units which operate within the Kruger National Park. Read our blog, ‘The Game Changers’. Find out more on the fascinating biology of these humble giants in our blog, ‘A Tribute to Elephants’.

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The Danger of Cell Connection at KNP

The Danger of Cell Connection at KNP

Are Selfies contributing to the endangerment of species?

Do you remember how comforting the Kruger was 30 years ago, when you and your new spouse arrived at the park for a non-conventional honeymoon? The warmth of the sun and the vague sound of all sorts of chatty animals filled the air with peace and purity. Flash forward 30 years and the pulse of the Kruger has been poached, stolen and warped into the morgue of a new predator.

Exposing an animal's coordinates can be done accidentally, due to ignorance of the relevant technologies.

Kruger National Park General Manage,r Ike Phaahla, has urged visitors not to share selfies (or other photos) of endangered species on social media channels. Something as innocent as a selfie can be incredibly detrimental to the preservation of already endangered species, such as rhinos and elephants.

The danger of selfies lies in the fact that your cell’s geolocation can be tracked by poachers, potentially providing increased opportunities for this heinous crime to be committed. With poachers adopting malicious technological methods to track animals, we need to be aware of the danger that we as ‘touring photographers’ potentially pose to wildlife.

Exposing an animal’s coordinates can be done accidentally, due to ignorance of the relevant technologies. Many smartphones and GPS-enabled cameras automatically implant geotagged data that provides the physical coordinates of exactly where the photo was taken.  When the geotagged photo is uploaded to a social media site, the animal is immediately made vulnerable.

Just last year, Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy, stated that more than half of the 318 poaching incidences in South Africa, between January and June, happened in the Kruger National Park.

We can all play a part and make a positive difference by following some simple guidelines that will ensure that we don’t place any animal at risk when sharing photos, but rather help to protect them from preying poachers:

We can all play a part and make a positive difference by following some simple guidelines that will ensure that we don’t place any animal at risk when sharing photos, but rather help to protect them from preying poachers:

Refrain from mentioning the animal’s location in your post and gallery

Mentioning the animal’s location is a no-go. If you choose to manage your gallery using different folders, title the folders with very vague names.

Strip your location metadata

We tend to rely heavily on our cell phones to capture our life-experiences and surroundings. With technology constantly advancing, smartphones have built-in GPS, which means your coordinates can be tracked to the tee. It is vital that you turn your device’s location feature off, to prevent information concerning your location being imbedded in the photos’ metadata. Find out more about how to turn off your devices geo-location.

Bring the animals’ plight to light

Make the world aware of the animal’s dire circumstances. Conduct research about the animal you are posting to your social media feed. You could even go so far as to donate the pictures to animal conservationists, as they could use these in awareness campaigns and for counting purposes. Monitoring and tracking the population of a species can prove to be rather difficult due to a number of factors such as the vastness of land, accessibility, the density of vegetation, etc. These pictures may prove to be of vital importance for the preservation of an animal’s population.

Bring the animals' plight to light
These pictures may prove to be of vital importance for the preservation of an animal’s population.

The fact that poachers are now using such technologically sophisticated methods to further their objectives is of great concern, especially when you consider that it is estimated that, by 2029, the number of visitors to the Park will double to 3.65 million per year! For this reason, the danger of posting geo-tagged photos must be brought to the attention of tourists and the general public.

We must then pose the question: is merely cutting cell connection enough to curb the danger of human being’s most dangerous weapon…narcissism?

Tourism in the Kruger National Park: Past Development, Present Determinants and Future Constraints

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This is MeerKAT

This is MeerKAT

Meet MeerKAT: the wide area surveillance system which is having a massive impact on the protection of South Africa’s rhino population within the Kruger National Park. Named the Postcode MeerKAT to recognise the funders of this innovation, the People’s Postcode Lottery of the United Kingdom and the Netherland’s Postcode Lottery, this system has reduced poaching in the area which it monitors by 80%. We take a closer look at the MeerKAT Project:

The surveillance system spent a year ‘under construction’ as a dedicated team of engineers researched, sourced and planned a solution to combat poaching activity in an undisclosed area of the Kruger National Park. The MeerKAT wide area surveillance system was developed by three organisations in partnership, namely: SANParks, Peace Parks Foundation and CSIR, who faced a number of challenges. These included the terrain it would need to monitor, the movement of wildlife versus humans, as well as piecing the project together within the shortest time-period possible, as rhino numbers decreased daily. The result of their efforts brought to life the Postcode MeerKAT, fit with Reutech RSR 904 ground surveillance radar, information analysis software and night-detection, long-range cameras.

Postcode MeerKAT was deployed to a high risk area of the Park and the team waited with baited breath for its impact. The team did not have to wait long to track the MeerKAT’s success as it identified just short of 90 poachers in a span of two months while deployed; saving the lives of a predicted 19 rhinos.

Not a year had passed before the Postcode MeerKAT was deployed to a high risk area of the Park and the team waited with baited breath for its impact. The team did not have to wait long to track the MeerKAT’s success as it identified just short of 90 poachers in a span of two months while deployed; saving the lives of a predicted 19 rhinos. Postcode MeerKAT was positioned on a hill overlooking this high-risk area where there is a strong presence of rhino, as well as poachers. The system makes use of the surveillance radar to scan the terrain from its vantage point and picks up on movement; the analysis software then assists in identifying whether the movement is an animal or a human on foot, and whether that human is a possible threat. The long-range cameras are used to assist the team at night-time, when poachers are move prevalent. The surveillance team can then make a call on whether to track the poachers before intervening or to deploy helicopter or road vehicle assistance to the area immediately. Take a look at the MeerKAT in action here.

Postcode MeerKAT Launch

Since its first deployment in January of 2017, and in a time span of a year, Postcode MeerKAT has decreased poaching activity in the areas it monitors by 80% with a success rate in arrests of 90%. On the 16th of November 2018, the Postcode MeerKAT Team were invited to attend the prestigious Kudu Awards, hosted by SANParks, and were awarded the Innovative Project of the Year. The annual awards ceremony honour the individuals and projects which contribute to operational successes and effectiveness throughout SANPark’s conservation efforts. This is an incredible project which is rightfully being acknowledged for its contributions to the plight for South Africa’s rhino population – we look forward to seeing the project span the Kruger and grow from strength to strength.

2018 MeerKAT Kudu Awards
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