Since the current scourge of rhino poaching started in South Africa in 2008/9 with firstly rumours, and then the implementation, of a Moratorium on Domestic Trade in Rhino Horn, extraordinary measures have been required to protect the last remaining rhinos roaming our planet. Rhinos have been systematically poached (murdered) in South African national parks for their horns, at its peak reaching death rates of over 3 per day (over 1000 per year), and as a result these parks have had to significantly strengthen their security. This increased security together with the ever-dwindling numbers of rhinos in national parks have shifted the threat of poaching, and thus the burden of protection, to private rhino reserves like BDR. BDR’s current operating costs run at over ZAR 5 million (US$ 425,000) per month, with more than half of that going directly to security.
BDR’s rhino protection program currently comprises the implementation of 60 permanently employed security personnel patrolling on foot and in vehicles, paired with elite reaction units of heavily armed soldiers. A helicopter with a full-time pilot flies regular patrols over the project.
It should be mentioned that, since the BDR’s inception in 2009, the national number of rhino lost due to poaching across South Africa has reached well over 7000 rhino (as at 2018). BDR, however, has only lost a total of 32 rhino during the same period, and has just celebrated 15 months of no poaching losses.
Stefran Broekman, our Security Manager, with his elite armed reaction unit
Sadly, the days of solely depending on manpower for the effective protection of rhinos, are long gone. In many cases where poaching takes place, it is the human element inside the security force that betrays the rhino. Internal involvement is unfortunately the greatest threat in any wildlife reserve.
BDR have thus opted for a counter-poaching strategy which allows them to reduce manpower and increase the use of technology. They have implemented a super high-tech electronic early-warning security system including radar and thermal cameras with intelligent video analytics, license plate recognition and other optical and audio sensors. Detection, target identification and tracking are handled by the technology system rather than having to rely on a human ops room controller, and is done outside the BDR perimeter, thus enabling BDR to address the threat long before it gets anywhere close to their rhinos.
The human element is then only brought in once a target has been identified and confirmed to be a threat. A reaction force is dispatched with helicopter and mobile vehicle reaction units. These units are made up of well experienced reaction team rangers equipped to work day and night together with a K9 (tracker dog) ability to increase their effectiveness even more.
The solution casts a virtual fence around, and a virtual blanket over, the entire project, allowing the incredible team at BDR to stay one step ahead of the very sophisticated poaching syndicates. It is a technology solution that serves as force multiplier, whilst reducing the human element.
The proposed solution unfortunately came at an enormous initial capital cost of US$3 million (ZAR38 million), but will allow BDR to cut their monthly operational costs significantly, rendering the project way more sustainable into the future.