Rhino Alive drive hopes to curb poaching

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ST p11main uav902 INLSA Boost: Loco, a South African National Parks tracking dog, and his handler in front of a Denel Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) at Skukuza Airport in the Kruger National Park yesterday. The UAV is equipped with highly sophisticated surveillance technology and will be used in the fight against rhino poaching. Pictures: Chris Collingridge

SHAUN SMILLIE

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BLOW the whistle on a rhino poacher and claim R100 000, or go big and bust a rhino horn syndicate and become a millionaire.

The significant reward money is part of a multi-pronged initiative to reduce rhino poaching kills to pre-2008 levels.

Yesterday, South African National Parks (SANParks) chief executive Dr David Mabunda announced Rhino Alive, their five-year strategy for combating poaching in the country’s national parks.

The strategy includes the use of hi-tech weapons systems, the assistance of a retired general and, hopefully, the help of the public.

ST p11sec uav772 Geared up: A ranger lays out the equipment used by SANParks personnel when tracking and apprehending poachers. INLSA

If everything goes well, the hope is that rhino poaching will be reduced to just 20 animals killed a year.

But it’s a long way off. Conservation officials are predicting that 405 rhinos would have been poached in the Kruger National Park by the end of this year. Mabunda likens the numbers to cricket scores.

“Forget about the cricket scores, that is history we have taken a bloody nose on, but we are not going to take a bloody nose any more.”

Part of Rhino Live is an initiative with LeadSA’s crime line. Members of the public who give information that leads to the successful arrest of a rhino poacher can receive a cash reward of R100 000. Provide a tip-off regarding a syndicate member and the reward is R1 million.

Yesterday, Mabunda also announced the introduction of retired general Johan Jooste, who is to oversee overall anti-poaching operations in the park. The general has combat experience, having served in South Africa’s bush war.

He said he wanted to beef up intelligence-gathering and make sure the various departments working against the poachers would be deploying all the resources they had.

ST p11mug uav985 VISION: Retired general Johan Jooste has been appointed|the SANParks anti-poaching commander in the Kruger National Park. INLSA

“This fight is not about an individual, and success depends on the collective collaboration and commitment from the men and women tasked with the responsibility of conserving our heritage,” Jooste said.

A lot of this intelligence-gathering would be coming from new equipment and technology, Mabunda said. One such piece of hardware is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) called the Seeker 2, which is on loan from arms manufacturer Denel.

The Seeker 2 was on display yesterday at the Skukuza airstrip.

This UAV comes with sophisticated optics and can be used at night. Denel is still testing the aircraft to see how best to use it in the park. SANParks will also be getting two British Gazelle helicopters early in the new year.

“We want to have continual surveillance, eyes on target right until they reach the poachers,” said Mabunda.

The number of rangers is to be increased, and Mabunda said they would be armed with new rifles so they can match the AK-47s the poachers are using.

The initiative also includes engaging with communities in Mozambique, from where the majority of poachers come.

Rhino Alive will also work towards protecting elephants in the park. The fear is that with increases in ivory poaching north of South Africa, Kruger’s elephants could soon be targeted.


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