A whole-of-society approach to combating rhino poaching

By definition, security is the protection of a country and its people from anything that might have an impact on their well-being such as, crime waste dumping and the poaching of natural assets, just to name a few. Areas considered important to maintaining a country’s security are its politics, social environment, economic well-being, military capabilities and environment issues. A threat to any of these areas is a risk to the county’s security.

The risks South Africa currently faces are interconnected with global risks. A major source of concern for the country is the severe onslaught on one of its natural assets, the rhino. This is a threat to biodiversity.

Duarte Goncalves, a CSIR systems engineer, is working on developing ‘whole-of-society’ approaches to address this problem. “One has to look at all levels in society, the national, community and individual levels, if you want to understand the problem. Then you look at ways of addressing it,” says Goncalves.

A whole-of-society approach is multi-disciplinary. It brings engineers, natural and social scientists together. Each of these disciplines look at a problem from their perspectives and in the end, there is a more comprehensive picture. Information that might be missing in one discipline could possibly be found in another, bridging the gaps in knowledge. This process involves experts and those involved in operations.

Wildlife crime is one area of particular interest to the CSIR and as such, the CSIR works in close partnership with SANParks to counter rhino poaching. According to Goncalves, a complex problem such as rhino poaching requires multiple levels of simultaneous intervention at international, national and organisational levels across various geographical areas. To ensure success, all efforts need to be aligned. To achieve this, you would work with individual groups, ensure their buy-in to possible solutions and then bring different groups together at the right time to form a larger group that can have significant impact.

“One of the contributing factors that make countering rhino poaching such an incredibly complicated task is the fact that there are more than 100 different stakeholders involved. These include other countries, state departments, the private sector, tourism agencies, non-profit organisations and non-government organisations, just to name a few. All these stakeholders are looking at the problem from their point of view,” says Goncalves.

The benefit of foresight

Rhino poaching is constantly evolving and counter-poaching units are struggling to keep up. As with any popular commodity, new markets are slowly but constantly emerging. Poaching tactics are also changing in response to security forces’ reactions and operations. Currently, counter-poaching efforts are mainly reactive.

In an effort to get ahead of the problem, Goncalves and his team are looking at using foresight – a science that looks at what could happen, but also predicts where the problem could potentially spread. The team studies drivers that fuel a particular crime, be it governance, values and/or transnational organised crime. Based on these findings, researchers can identify countries with similar environments that are potentially vulnerable to that problem. The identified areas can then take precautionary steps to fend off threats. The team has recently delivered a report to stakeholders regarding the vulnerability of certain countries to becoming new consumers of wildlife products. This allows these stakeholders to build relationships with vulnerable countries and take action proactively.

Goncalves will be hosting a series of workshops with stakeholders in an effort to promote ‘whole-of-society’ thinking with the intention of aligning efforts, ideas and possible solutions between various stakeholders and creating a common understanding of the problem and possible solutions.

For more information, send a mail to dpss@csir.co.za