Tech that! Poachers are up against it in this reserve
From drones to fibre fences and facial recognition, Rietvlei is ramping up the fight to save the rhino
Prepare yourself, poachers, things are about to get hi-tech.
The Rietvlei Nature Reserve east of Centurion is about to undergo technology upgrades that could make it the most secure animal conservation site on the planet.
Face and licence-plate recognition, drones with heat sensors and night vision, fibre fences that detect movement, and technology that pinpoints any mobile device on the reserve are just some of the new toys rangers will have to protect the animals.
Anti-poaching organisation Elephants, Rhinos and People (ERP) is responsible for introducing the new technology as it continues to find and test new ways of protecting some of Africa’s most endangered animals.Last year poachers killed two rhinos at the Rietvlei reserve.The 13 rhinos that still call Rietvlei home have been dehorned and are also protected by a 24-hour on-call security company thanks to ERP’s intervention.
Project manager at ERP, Robert du Plessis, told Times Select it would be the first time facial and number-plate recognition would be used in animal conservation.
“These systems are up on highways and in other places but this will be the first time they are used in animal conservation,” he said.
Du Plessis said cameras placed around the reserve would be able to detect vehicle registrations and people’s faces, which they would cross-reference through a database of suspicious or wanted vehicles and known or suspected poachers.
“Whether it’s a stolen vehicle or it’s been in other reserves as a suspicious vehicle, it will pick that up and they will respond,” he said.“The cameras will be at the main entrances and along the reserve’s fence line so when people come past you can see who they are.”
Fibre cables that are able to detect and differentiate between the movement of humans and animals will also be laid along the fence lines.
Du Plessis said: “It picks up the vibrations from human, elephant and rhino footsteps and is able to detect which each one is. Whenever a human, rhino or elephant comes within 5m of the fence it picks it up and sends a signal which tells us exactly where it is so we can respond to that exact point.
“It’s also attached to the fence so when the fence line is cut it tells us so we know people are coming into the reserve and we can dispatch a team out to that location.”
According to figures released by the Department of Environmental Affairs in January, there were 1,028 rhinos poached in South Africa last year. Although incidence of poaching remains high, they have decreased from 2014 when they peaked at 1,215 rhino killings.International conservation organisation Save The Rhino said that while is was encouraging that poaching levels were not escalating, the outlook for rhino population growth was still severely affected and poachers were proving adept at changing their target sites and trafficking strategies.
“Furthermore, there are continuing and worrying signs that poaching gangs are increasingly moving beyond South Africa’s borders, gaining a foothold in other African countries – many of which have less resources available to protect wildlife. We’re certainly not out of thewoods yet,” they said.
Du Plessis said they welcomed any new technology that helped improve the fight against poaching, even from the public.
“We welcome anyone who has technology that can be used for anti-poaching. Come and speak to us and let us see if we can help you implement the tech,” he said.