17 March 2017
Kruger National Park, South Africa – A group of three poachers move silently through the bushveld, hidden from the naked eye by the darkness of night. Armed with a rifle and carrying a grim collection of hacking and cutting tools, they have but one goal – to kill yet another one of Africa’s iconic rhinos for its horn. They move quickly, yet with confidence that the vastness of the quiet park will allow them free reign to complete their task undisturbed.
However, unbeknownst to these wildlife criminals, the South African National Parks (SANParks) counter-poaching night-watch - sitting many kilometers away - has been closely watching them as they traverse the protected area. With the use of new wide area surveillance technology and specialised long range optics installed in the so-called Meerkat system, poachers no longer have the luxury of relying on invisibility as they illegally enter South Africa’s primary rhino stronghold.
A SANParks Special Ranger response unit is quickly mobilised to intercept the trespassers, and the team members focus all their energy on ensuring a zero-harm intervention. Once again the Meerkat is utilised, this time to safely direct the response team as they inch closer and closer to a potentially dangerous encounter with the armed poachers. Guided by the “angel on their shoulder”, the rangers manage to catch the poachers off-guard, arrest them and confiscate valuable firearms and tools. At least on this night, thanks to the Meerkat and the dedicated ranger teams, no human or animal lives were lost.
This is a scenario that plays out in Kruger National Park night after night. The innovative Meerkat wide area surveillance system – developed through a partnership between SANParks, Peace Parks Foundation and South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) – was officially put into operations at the end of January 2017, following completion of the first production model, aptly named the Postcode Meerkat, as it was funded by the players of People’s Postcode Lottery . During the first two weeks of operation alone, the system was successfully used to thwart the efforts of five of nine detected poaching groups, with five poachers apprehended and arrested.