Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL
Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL

The security costs of preventing poaching are a disproportionate strain on conservation budgets and new solutions must be found to make it viable in the long run.

This is what Francois Spruyt‚ chair of the Welgevonden Game Reserve in Limpopo‚ said on Tuesday during a panel discussion at the MTN Business Internet of Things Conference and Awards in Midrand.

"[Poachers] get money every time they get a rhino horn. We get no extra money if we save one of our rhinos. [The rhino] just keeps wandering around and eating our grass‚" he said. "We used to outsource [security]. Now it is absolutely critical to us and it costs an enormous amount‚ a disproportionate amount of our budget."

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Spruyt said there had been a surge in demand for body parts of animals such as rhinos‚ elephants‚ pangolins and lions in the last decade.

"The economic miracles that occurred in some of those Asian countries put a lot more people in a position where they have disposable cash and they can afford luxury items‚ such as very expensive animal body part remedies‚" Spruyt said. "Some of these body parts have been used all over the world‚ but particularly in some Asian countries for centuries‚ in some cases up to 2,000 years."

This is why Welgevonden teamed up with MTN and Wageningen University in Wageningen‚ The Netherlands‚ to use sensors to track the movement‚ acceleration and body temperature of 117 animals in the 37,000ha game reserve. They used the data to determine a baseline of what was normal and abnormal behaviour for the animals so that their sensors would alert park management if they were threatened.

"Any animal can be used. All of them tell us a different story about what is going on. The most important thing is that we have learned through computer algorithm development what is abnormal behaviour and what is normal behaviour‚" said Prof Herbert Prins from Wageningen University.

According to Spruyt‚ the same syndicates behind poaching have been around for years and previously committed other crimes, such as drug and human trafficking. "These are not new people that came about in the past 10 years when there was a surge in the demand. These are exactly the same crime syndicates. I’ll be very surprised if there’s not a representative of them sitting here today."

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