Biodiversity, Conservation, Field Rangers, Mozambique, Partnerships, Rewilding, Technology and Innovation, TFCAs, Wildlife Crime, Zinave National Park

Sensor Sensation: Colette Leads the Way for Women in Conservation Technology

Colette Terblanche, Project Manager for Peace Parks Foundation’s Combatting Wildlife Crime team, is an anti-poaching powerhouse. For more than five years, she has been committed to the daunting, and mounting, challenges of rhino protection, in a minority of women working in this field.

In the age of intense and escalating wildlife crime, poaching strategies continue to evolve and evade conservation tactics at pace. Teams must constantly develop sensor technology to outsmart criminals and safeguard southern Africa’s rhino populations.

Getting Smart

Pre-empting the pioneering cross-border translocation of 37 rhino from South Africa to Mozambique’s Zinave National Park from 2022 to 2023, where both white and black species had been extinct for more than four decades, Colette embraced the rhino sensor programme. She has been working tirelessly with SmartParks, a non-profit organisation which supports conservation efforts with the use of cutting-edge technology. Collaboratively, SmartParks and Peace Parks have been funding, developing and field testing the game-changing sensors.

Climbing the career ladder: Colette’s expansive role reaches great heights. Whilst sensor technology is under ongoing development, communications infrastructure must also be constantly maintained for the system to function optimally in the field. Here, she scales a tower which is fitted with an antenna; this is a vital component of the LoRa long range radio network needed for sensor signals to travel vast distances across protected areas.

Shoring up rhino security requires a suite of different approaches, specific to each protected area. Alongside strengthened ranger forces, surveillance aircraft and other protective resources, sensors deployed in Zinave National Park have helped immensely, contributing to a zero poaching track record to date. “But the sensors are not yet 100% spot-on,” she says, “Hence our ongoing efforts to help fine-tune the capabilities.” Referring to the widespread implementation of advanced ‘smart’ technology, she explains that all parks where Peace Parks is operational must be Smart Parks by 2030. Her responsibilities are huge.

Flying the Flag for Female Empowerment

Colette’s contribution to refining the sensors has been made with largely self-taught technological know-how, and invaluable hands-on skills needed to fit them to rhino in the field. The operational application of the sensors, after so much expert preparation and assessment, is an amazing achievement for her and the various partners she works with. Peace Parks anticipates that their upgrading efforts will be ongoing, involving a more expansive testing range.

Colette and Dr Katharina von Dürckheim, Scientific Advisor: Wildlife Corridor Development, conducting a field visit to Zambia’s Simalaha Community Conservancy in 2023 to initiate the Smart Park Project. There they met with female community scouts working to protect the area’s wildlife. This was the first time ever in Colette’s career that there were only women on the trip.

It is an extremely tough working environment, but she is constantly proving that gender should not be a barrier. “There are very few women in this field at this stage,” Colette explains. “But as conservation technology and job opportunities become more prevalent, these roles are more accessible and there is greater scope for women to get involved. This applies to both IT specialists and field operatives.”

Organisations, project teams and individuals all contribute vitally to progressing recognition of women in this challenging realm. Colette embodies a positive can-do attitude and an aspirational mindset, vitally leveraging women’s roles in, historically, a man’s world of combating wildlife crime. From technological savvy to field-based grit, she hopes to inspire a generation of strong, skilled female conservationists ready to fight for wildlife head-on, and hands-on.

From left: Colette’s niece Christina and daughter Nina accompanied her on the most recent rhino translocation. On the ground in South Africa, Colette’s expertise was key to preparing the five black and five white rhino for their new home in Mozambique’s Zinave National Park, drawing on the great skill, strength and team support required for capture and sensor installation. With the sensors in place, the rhino could be crated and dispatched on their landmark cross-border road trip, safe in the knowledge that there were already protective measures in place once they first set foot in Zinave. Colette loves to involve her girls in the remarkable work that she does, encouraging them to experience the hands-on aspects of working to protect wildlife.

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