If it weren’t for Postcode Meerkat – the most advanced wide-area surveillance system ever developed for counter-poaching purposes on the African continent – the world would have lost hundreds more rhino in the past five years.
Postcode Meerkat is the product of a groundbreaking partnership between South African National Parks (SANParks), Peace Parks Foundation and South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Its name recognises the UK People’s Postcode Lottery, the Dutch Postcode Lottery and the Swedish Postcode Lottery, which all contributed towards the research, development and deployment of the system.
Using a pioneering combination of radar and electro-optical technology, Postcode Meerkat can detect the movement of both humans and rhinos over large distances, pinpointing their locations and operating during day and night. This allows for dramatically faster reaction times, with counter-poaching teams able to react to poachers before they can target any rhinos. Postcode Meerkat system has, in some high-risk areas, virtually eliminated rhino poaching incidents altogether. Overall, more than 95% of poacher activity in Meerkat’s deployment areas has been detected, 65% of suspected poachers arrested and 80% of rhino poaching incidents disrupted. Moreover, rangers have also noticed an increase in the number of rhino within these hotspot areas.
The modern-day rhino poaching crisis in South Africa is driven by high demand for rhino horn in Asian countries. The horn (made of keratin, the same substance as human hair and nails) is used in traditional Chinese Medicine and has also become a status symbol of wealth and prosperity. The good news is that, in South Africa, the numbers poached have fallen from 1215 in 2014, to only 394 in 2020, thanks to the dedication of passionate conservationists, intensified protection efforts, increased donor funding, and the development of technology such as Postcode Meerkat.
Mark McGill, Technology Operations Manager for the Kruger National Park, explains, ‘The dream is to have more Meerkat systems combined with other ongoing initiatives…’
Postcode Meerkat is one of the projects that falls under the umbrella of Peace Parks’ multi-faceted Rhino Protection Programme. “Through the Rhino Protection Programme, we work closely with governments and conservation agencies such as SANParks, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Mozambique’s National Administration for Conservation Areas, to develop and implement practical solutions for the protection of rhinos and build up investigative capabilities to reduce wildlife crime,” says Tumelo Matjekane, Project Manager for Peace Parks’ Combatting Wildlife Crime programme.
As part of the protection programme, Peace Parks has worked across the border to help secure the adjoining Limpopo National Park through a long-term partnership with the Mozambique Conservation Agency, ANAC, fostering cross-border collaboration between South Africa and Mozambique that has further helped to reduce rhino poaching incidents in these core components of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area.
Peace Parks Foundation CEO Werner Myburgh points out that this partnership has contributed significantly towards driving a 76% reduction in poaching incursions between Limpopo National Park and Kruger National Park, over the period 2018 to 2020. Myburgh adds that the support of donors such as the Postcode Lotteries is critical to continue driving the development of innovative technologies such as the Meerkat.
“Rhino conservation is incredibly complex, and if it is to be successful, we constantly need to stay ahead of the technological curve. Peace Parks continues to be extremely grateful for the support that the Postcode Lotteries have given us over the years to make this possible, developing innovative solutions and supporting a much broader multi-faceted strategy.”
Through the sustained support of the Postcode Lotteries and other donors, Peace Parks has become the largest financial contributor towards rhino protection in Kruger National Park and Limpopo National Park. Since 2015, the Foundation has provided equipment, training, technology development, capacity building, infrastructure forensics, investigations, rhino management, and rhino orphan care and rehabilitation, along with key strategic and technical advice.
Peace Parks Foundation strives tirelessly toward the day when rhino are no longer poached, but live in harmony alongside humankind.
To learn more head to PeaceParks.org/meerkat2021