Detection Fence in KZN, released for World Rhino Day. Photos supplied
Detection Fence in KZN, released for World Rhino Day. Photos supplied

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP) has built a fantastic new fence, complete with the latest technology, to deter and detect rhino poachers… and in so doing save South Africa’s wildlife as well as keeping the brave rangers, who put their lives on the line for the rhino, safer.

rhino detection fence kzn
Detection Fence in KZN, released for World Rhino Day. Photos supplied

This incredible park, situated in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), is home to the largest population of rhino outside of the Kruger National Park, and is often referred to as the ‘birthplace of rhino’ as it was this area where the southern white rhino was saved from the brink of extinction, over half a century ago. Now, under threat again from escalating poaching, with levels in HiP currently unsustainable, the park – which is managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife – has adopted this latest technology to protect the species and ensure this crucial population is conserved into the future.

Wildlife ACT and Ezemvelo, with support from key donors Global Conservation and WCN, have partnered to construct the fence which detects any incursions or interference along its length. Any attempt made by poachers to enter the park triggers an alert which is automatically sent to Ezemvelo’s control centre. A rapid response team can therefore mobilise without delay, responding to poaching groups before a rhino is killed. This allows efficient use of resources, placing Ezemvelo’s anti-poaching staff one step ahead of rhino poachers while helping to protect the lives of rangers at the frontlines of the battle against rhino poaching.

Various proactive tactics against poaching have been identified, including the implementation of intensive protection zones within the network of parks to more efficiently patrol critical hotspots and protect core rhino populations within the expansive public conservation space that Ezemvelo is responsible for. HiP is unique in that it has a large wilderness area which is extremely remote with no management tracks, making patrols difficult.

One element of Ezemvelo’s strategy is to increase the use of technology to enable early detection and response. It is under this strategy that Ezemvelo has identified the establishment of a ‘Smart Park’ as a key programme to combat poaching in HiP.

Stuart McIlrath of Gallagher Zululand and Dennis Kelly,Mkhamisa Section Ranger Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

The Detection Fence

“The fence has electrics both inside and outside its length and any tampering or cutting of the fence sends us an immediate message, pinpointing the location of the tamper. Two sections of fence have been upgraded to date and we have already seen a shift in Rhino poaching activity away from both areas to sites where there is no Detection Fence,” says Dennis Kelly, Section Ranger, Makhamisa.

The fence is being upgraded in phases, with specific sections focused on because of their poaching threat and conservation need. This phased approach is carefully planned to ensure maximum impact, but also to channel poaching effort towards areas where other resources can be deployed more easily. This work integrates into several other initiatives being carried out by park management such as the Canine unit and wildlife monitoring. This full integration ensures that poaching incidents can be reduced, and the possibility of poacher apprehension is increased.

“With shrinking budgets for conservation efforts, and already limited resources being shifted to address other needs during the Covid 19 Pandemic, it is extremely valuable to use technology to make existing operations more efficient. Wildlife ACT is proud to be working with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife on this groundbreaking initiative in the province, helping to proactively protect not only these key rhino populations but also support the field teams in their work,” says Mark Gerrard, Managing Director of Wildlife ACT.

Statement from MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs

The MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Nomusa Dube-Ncube, said in a statement: “As we observe World Rhino Day, we pause and pay tribute to law enforcement agencies, nature lovers, conservationists who are working with our entity Ezemvelo-Wildlife to fight wildlife crime. We wish to single out Wildlife Act – Focused Conservation for their sterling efforts in using the state-of-the-art technology to fight rhino poaching.

“We convey our gratitude to Mark Gerrard, Managing Director of Wildlife ACT and the rest of the team. I am pleased by the fact that Mr Gerrard acknowledges that fact that, with shrinking budgets for conservation efforts, and already limited resources being shifted to address other needs during the Covid 19 pandemic, the use of cutting edge technology makes existing operations more efficient.

Ndleke East - Detection Fence
Ndleke East – Detection Fence

“Critically, on this day, we recommit ourselves as government to ensure that an integrated approach is used to protect and conserve the rhino population for future generations.”

Dube-Ncube said she had a meeting with Environment Minister Barbara Creecy last week in which they undertook to “intensify all efforts aimed at protecting our rhino population. Working with our partners, we have decided to invest in Smart Park connectivity and the integration of systems to ensure early detection and rapid response.”

She said one of the key instruments being used is the installation of infrared trap cameras linked directly to the Parks Operational Centre, and revealed that on 6 March 2020, an infrared camera detected three armed poaching suspects, and automatically alerted the Operations Centre, providing number of persons, grid reference and direction of the incursion.

“The Reaction Unit was immediately briefed and dispatched. The suspects were located in the area and challenged. The Reaction Unit members who came under immediate threat defended themselves which resulted in the two suspects being mortally wounded.”

Dube-Ncube thanked the key agencies for their support in these initiatives and said: “We are hopeful of the decline in poaching losses. Whilst we are hopeful about the decline in rhino poaching, it must be noted that the pressure on our rhino is ever present.”

She said figures have shown that money earned in the illicit animal trade is more than 10 billion US Dollars.

“Despite these alarming figures, we wish to commend communities that are working with us to fight rhino poaching,” she said.

Dube-Ncube said since the announcement of the lifting of travel restrictions, “we have been receiving thousands of telephone calls from tourists from different parts of the province, the country and the globe. We continue to assure nature lovers and the public at large of unparalleled experience of the wildlife and eco-tourism.”