In 2013, the CSIR entered into an agreement with SANParks to render specialist technology support over five years in several tactical and strategic programmes.
A substantial part of the CSIR’s contribution lies in expertise in day and night surveillance, systems integration, communication and data collection and analysis, defence technology and tactics for specialised reaction force deployment and other systems that detect human movement, border crossing and the origin of gunshots.
An important outcome of the partnership is the establishment of mission area control centre in the Kruger National Park, situated in the so-called intensive protection zone where rhino poaching levels are the highest.
The ‘war room’ type facility, operates as the nerve centre where surveillance reports, data on poaching, events and border crossings and other information is collated and displayed. Various task forces and departments are represented in the centre, which is equipped with various communication and information technology tools and maps. A technical team oversees use of a customised CSIR-developed system that is used to log surveillance content from sensors, and reports or information from rangers, Park Officials and tourists encouraged to be vigilant about suspicious behaviour.
CSIR senior systems engineer, Cobus Venter says the aim of the system is to move to a pro-active stance to start pre-empting poaching attempts. “We collect data of various types – voice, visuals, radio reports, etc. to get a complete picture of what is happening. We analyse this to detect trends and consistencies. There is a lot of modelling we can do with the data and statistics to predict when and where poaching can occur,” he explains.
This means that the centre is not only the command post for immediate reaction task forces, but data collected over time enables officials to do predictive modelling and proactively plan to counter future attacks.
The CSIR also supported SANParks in writing and developing a proposal for the Howard G. Buffet foundation, securing a donation of R250million to invest in improved counter poaching capabilities such as helicopters, surveillance systems, canine systems, and ranger equipment and training.
Much of the work is not published and pertains to research on poaching tactics, communication systems, intelligence-sharing, crime investigation, forensics and cyberdefence. The ranger training is a special focus of many of the projects in order to improve mobility, clothing and protection, equipment and weapons, as well as to undertake research into mental agility of rangers exposed to the stress and cruelty of environmental crime.
In line with the CSIR’s collaborative mode of working, several partners contribute systems, information or support to the project. These include the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Department of Defence, Provincial & Regional Parks, private reserves, SADC stakeholders, industry partner SeeCrypt, as well as NGOs such as the Howard G. Buffet Foundation, World Wildlife Foundation, the Peace Parks Foundation and StopRhinoPoaching.com.
The CSIR has a longer term focus on environmental asset security management capabilities and support border safeguarding, surveillance and detection and safeguarding of endangered species. The CSIR’s role lies in assisting agencies mandated to operate in this field with the evaluation of technologies, adaptations, integrated systems or new inventions to do the job optimally. Furthermore, research is also being done on a whole-of-society approach, to align the affected stakeholders, neighbouring communities, law enforcement agencies and the industry.