Can Artificial Intelligence Help Pinch Poachers?
31 October 2019
Less than a decade ago, Mozambique’s Maputo Special Reserve only had three wildlife species left, namely elephant, red duiker and reedbuck – in very low numbers. In Zinave National Park, situated more than 1 000 km to the north, the forests were silent with merely a few small antelope scattered about the thick overgrown wilderness of the conservation area.
Intensive conservation management and rewilding efforts, implemented through a partnership between the country’s Government and Peace Parks Foundation since 2010, have completely changed these landscapes.
Over 4 900 animals, more than 11 species, have been reintroduced to Maputo Special Reserve and a recent wildlife census showed that the total population now exceeds well over 10 000 animals. Species reintroduced include buffalo, giraffe, impala, kudu, nyala, waterbuck, warthog, oribi, eland, blue wildebeest and zebra.
In Zinave, Peace Parks also returned ten key species that naturally occurred there before the civil war. This included megafauna such as elephant and buffalo, as well as giraffe, impala, wildebeest, zebra, warthog, waterbuck, reedbuck, sable and even ostrich. With almost 2 100 animals rewilded to Zinave, its ecosystem is on the mend. The wildlife numbers are booming. Camera traps strategically placed across the park no longer stand dormant staring at empty waterholes, but are constantly triggered, capturing images of large herds of wildlife going about their daily routine.
A glimpse has also been caught of the first elephant calves born to the family groups rewilded from South Africa to Zinave through a partnership with De Beers Group and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife over the past two years. An array of smaller mammals and bird species are naturally returning, and the previously deafening silence is now filled with the sound of life.
Commercial exploitation, untethered population growth and human-led disasters, like war, have had a devastating impact on our planet. The latest Living Planet index paints a grim picture of the overwhelming decline in wildlife populations – a 60% fall in the past 40 years. Less than a quarter of the world’s land is free from human interference, with the deterioration in biodiversity underpinned by widespread agriculture, land conversion and the exploitation of species.
Peace Parks, therefore, works tirelessly to re-establish, renew and conserve large cross-border ecosystems so as to reinstate ecological functionality, protect biodiversity, promote efficient land-use, and develop these areas to be self-sustainable for the foreseeable future.
A conservation area cannot function without wildlife. To this end, rewilding is not only one of the Peace Parks’ most ambitious projects but a core part of the park development process. Rewilding moves wildlife from areas of overpopulation to areas where wildlife numbers are far beyond carrying capacity. The animals restore balance and biodiversity in the ecosystems, whilst at the same time setting the scene for the development of nature-based tourism, thereby exponentially increasing the potential for securing the area’s future.
A simplified depiction of Peace Parks Foundation’s park development process:
Secure commitment and capacitate the men and women on the ground.
Enhance conservation management and protection, and reintroduce animal species to bring equilibrium to an unsettled ecosystem.
Work with local communities – finding new ways to sustainably utilise natural resources and establish alternative livelihood options that will see them find their way out of extreme poverty.
Forge commercial linkages that stimulate the development of tourism – ultimately securing financial self-sufficience and long-term survival for the conservation areas.
Sadly, of course, increased wildlife numbers also means the escalation of interest from those involved in wildlife crime. Keeping the animals and natural resources of these areas safe is a top priority for Peace Parks Foundation and its partners. In both Maputo Special Reserve and Zinave National Park, strategic anti-poaching efforts have been rigorously revisioned and enhanced over the past five years. Significant resources have been mobilized towards putting additional feet on the ground – 25 new rangers in Maputo Special Reserve and 24 in Zinave.
Senior operational and technical staff were employed to coordinate intensified ranger tactics and investigative procedures, and external expertise brought in to provide technical advice on anti-poaching operations. Centralised command centres have been established and equipped with the latest technology, such as new digital radio and activity monitoring systems. Both parks have received additional aerial support in the shape of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters that has had an enormous impact on the efficiency with which teams can rapidly respond to incidents on the ground.
Confident that the parks have been secured, Peace Parks continues with its rewilding efforts. In 2019, we translocated 1 065 animals from six locations in South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia to Maputo Special Reserve and Zinave, and including 18 zebra to the Simalaha Commmunity Conservancy in the Zambian component of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.
This year we also returned three species to ecosystems in Mozambique where they had become locally extinct. In Zinave National Park, a new founder population of 48 sable, that used to occur in the area in large numbers before the civil war, were released into the park.
In a protected environment with limited predators, no poaching, and enough food and water, it is expected that wildlife populations in these protected areas will increase at 30% per year, doubling in size in three years.
We would like to thank all our partners and donors who continued to help us to write new and exciting chapters in this conservation success story this year:
The successful execution of translocations requires logistical teams on the ground, custom-built wildlife transport containers, fuel, vehicle spares, veterinary equipment, medicine, food, water and much more.You can support our 2020 rewilding season: