Conservationists deploy an ambitious surveillance system across South Africa’s biggest state park, using infrared cameras and motion sensors to protect rhinos from poachers
- Kruger National Park in South Africa has developed a system to protect rhinos
- It’s an ambitious network of surveillance cameras and motion sensors
- The sensors can differentiate animal and human movement and flag poachers
Conservationists in South Africa’s largest national park have built an ambitious surveillance system to protect its dwindling rhino population from poachers.
The system, codenamed ‘Postcode Meerkat,’ monitors Kruger National Park, a 7,700 square mile conservation area along the border with Mozambique.
It uses a series of strategically-placed 12-foot tall posts equipped with radar sensors, cameras, and infrared monitors that allow it to record footage at night.
Rhinos in South Africa’s Kruger National Park are being monitored by an ambitious surveillance system, codenamed ‘Postcode Meerkat’ (pictured above)
The solar powered radar and camera sensors scan the surrounding area for motion and connect to a computer system that can distinguish between animal and human movement.
When a potential group of poachers is flagged by one of the sensors, a ‘reaction unit’ travels to the area via helicopter or SUV to further investigate.
Since the Meerkat system first became operational in 2016, rhino deaths in the park have steadily declined, going from 504 in 2017 to 422 in 2018.
The number of encounters with poachers over the same period has remained mostly steady, with 2,662 recorded incursions into the park in 2017 and 2,620 incursions in 2018.
Most of those incursions are recorded by the surveillance system but only a small percentage ever lead to direct contact with park staff.
Rhino populations in Kruger National Park are estimated to be between 7,000 and 8,000, and the number of annual deaths from poaching have slowly declined since Meerkat was implemented
Meerkat uses a series of solar powered cameras, radar sensors, and infrared sensor to observe the terrain at night
Park officials can track footage recorded by Meerkat from remote operating stations placed around the park
In 2017, there were just 120 instances of direct contact with poachers and in 2018 there were 125.
This suggests that while overall poacher populations haven’t declined, they appear to have become more cautious given the likelihood they’re being watched.
With a rhino population that’s estimated to be between 7,000 and 8,000, even small annual improvements can make a difference.
The Meerkat system has advanced motion tracking to help it distinguish human and animal movement. When the system flags a potential threat from poachers special ‘reaction units’ will travel to the indicated region via helicopter or SUV
Rhino deaths from poaching in Kruger National Park declined from 504 in 2017 to 422 in 2018
Preserving the parks rhinos can also have impact the park’s yearly revenue, which saw visits from 1.8 million tourists in 2017.
‘These parks are a huge revenue generator for South Africa,’ Tumelo Matjekane, of the advocacy group Peace Parks Foundation, told CNN.
‘They attract tourists from all over the world. If we are not able to conserve that, those people will not come here and the impact of that on livelihoods, in the communities around the parks, and our economy — it’s not measurable.’
WHY RHINOS ARE KILLED FOR THEIR HORNS
- White rhinos – the kind killed in the weekend massacre – are the second largest land mammal in the world, after the elephant.
- A kilo of rhino horn is worth around $30,000
- Rhinoceros horns are made from a protein called keratin, the same substance that fingernails and hair are made of. It is actually a compacted mass of hairs that continues to grow throughout the animal’s lifetime, just like our own hair and nails.
- White rhinos can weigh as much as 2.5 tons and 6 feet high and run at speeds of up to 30 mph.
- There are around 20,000 white rhinos left in the wild.
- Rhinos remain pregnant for 15-16 months. Baby rhinos stay close to their mothers until they are approximately 3 years old.