Can Artificial Intelligence Help Pinch Poachers?
31 October 2019
As one of the strategies to counter the increase in rhino poaching, Limpopo National Park, the Mozambican component of Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP), has started training a special anti-poaching unit of 30 rangers.
Great Limpopo is home to approximately 60% of the world’s rhino population. This 37 572 km2 transfrontier park (roughly the size of the Netherlands), which has been called the world’s greatest animal kingdom, is home to the world’s largest population of white rhino and the second largest population of the critically endangered black rhino. Sadly, it has also recently become known as the frontline of the rhino poaching war, particularly across the international border between Mozambique and South Africa, where it has escalated to a level which not only threatens the survival of rhino populations, but also the continued viability of the transfrontier park.
Mr Carvalho Muaria, Mozambique’s Minister of Tourism and Ms Edna Molewa, South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs, have met twice to implement a cooperation agreement to jointly combat wildlife crime, in particular the poaching of high-value species such as rhino and elephant. Officials from both countries, representing a wide range of role-players from the security and conservation communities, are meeting regularly to counter the crime. Mozambique and South Africa are also developing the following key interventions at a joint management and operation level, in terms of a draft GLTP cooperation agreement:
South Africa has undertaken a number of strategic interventions to stem the tide of rhino poaching in all its protected areas, notably in Kruger National Park, which is home to the world’s largest rhino population.
This includes appointing a highly rated and decorated retired army major general to oversee the overall anti-poaching operations in the park, the deployment of the South African National Defence Force in the park, training and deploying more rangers, offering major cash rewards for the successful conviction of a poaching syndicate mastermind and the successful arrest of a suspected poacher and a partnership with South Africa’s Crime Line that allows members of the public to make anonymous SMS tip-offs 24/7.
Extensive aerial patrols support efforts on the ground, while rangers and sniffer dogs have been deployed at the park’s entrance gates.
As one of the strategies to counter the increase in rhino poaching, Limpopo National Park, the Mozambican component of Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, has started training a special anti-poaching unit of 30 rangers.
The training is being undertaken at the park’s new field ranger and training base in Mapai and is being conducted by the Southern Africa Wildlife College, which has extensive field ranger training experience across southern Africa. The training programme is the one adopted by the Game Rangers Training Coordination Group as the standard across Africa, thereby ensuring the park’s field rangers are at the forefront of the best regional anti-poaching techniques. Other collaborators in the training are selected senior park field rangers and the Mozambican Police, whose officers have been commissioned to conduct the rifle skills training.
Following an application and interview process, 110 candidates were selected for the one-week field ranger pre-selection phase. Rigorous drills reduced this to a group of the best 40 candidates. These candidates are currently undertaking a four-week basic training course, following which 30 field rangers will be selected for a five-week tactical operations course.
From this the best six candidates will be selected for the final phase of a two-week patrol leader course. Three new vehicles, patrol and operational equipment and rifles are currently under procurement and will be mobilised in time for the deployment of the unit early in December. The 30-man unit will operate primarily in the western part of the park along the border with Kruger National Park to prevent poachers from crossing the border into Kruger. It is expected that this will make a significant contribution to the transfrontier park’s efforts to combat wildlife crime.
Following the receipt of 20 AKM rifles earlier in the year, the park last week received 30 new LM-5 rifles to complement the existing anti-poaching rifles and strategies. This type of rifle cannot be used in large-game poaching, should they ever fall into the wrong hands. To date the park has arrested 28 poachers and captured 14 rifles with over 4m Meticais (± R1.3m) in fines being issued. The park is currently working with the legal system to ensure that the arrested poachers will be prosecuted.
The park contracted a Massingir theatre group to raise awareness on rhino poaching amongst the communities in and around Limpopo National Park. Peace Parks Foundation supported this effort, which was facilitated by Limpopo National Park’s community department and the community extensionist, Mr Tomas Mupatua. The theatre group was contracted based on the park’s terms of reference to communicate, in an understandable and entertaining manner, the threat of rhino poaching to both the park’s existence and to the communities. The six-person theatre group comprises mainly teachers from Massingir town.
The theatre show communicated the threat of global warming (an understandable concept in this hot part of the world), the importance of the park to communities within the perspective of regional development, revenue sharing and employment benefits, but most importantly the threat that rhino poaching poses to the future of both the park and to community well-being, including the loss of loved ones because of illicit activities.
The theatre group presented to 36 communities, including to the resettlement programme communities currently living inside the park, communities living in the buffer zone along the Limpopo and Elefantes rivers and the Cubo and Massingir communities. The group considered the Massingir town theatre show to be their highlight, as it was attended by a number of senior officials as part of Mozambique’s National Peace and Reconciliation Day events on the 4th of October.
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