Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Saving rhinos through information

Information is the basis of any war, says Chris Galliers, the national biodiversity programme manager of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa).

"The old informer networks collapsed, so new ones are needed. Without information we are dead in the water."

Since it was launched in 2010, the Wessa Rhino Initiative has spent more than R174 000 on collecting data about poaching syndicates that has been passed on to the police to use in more than 25 key cases.

It has also funded anti-poaching and communications equipment for investigators.

Wessa facilitated the formation of Game Reserves United, an intelligence network that operates on private game reserves around the Kruger National Park and works in collaboration with law enforcement agencies.

Investigators infiltrate feeder communities to gather information on poacher activities and trends.

This means the reserves can be proactive instead of just reacting after rhinos have been poached.

"In the current situation, this approach to tackling rhino poaching is unique and could form the blueprint for other large conservation areas where there is good landowner collaboration," says Galliers.

The project is in the process of expanding into Mozambique, where many of the Kruger's poachers come from, and is developing crime-mapping technology.

"Information will be stored centrally, where it can be analysed," Gallier says. "We will transfer specialised skills and hire more specialised security staff. We also plan to chart other crimes such as gun theft, which are often linked with poaching."

Besides the information war, Wessa has assisted the Mpumalanga tourism and parks agency to complete the DNA sampling, ear-notching and micro-chipping of rhinos in the province.

The organisation was also the catalyst in getting an international research programme started on establishing pathways for the illicit trade in rhino horn.

Galliers says it may not be high-profile or glamorous work, but it's essential.

"Any reduction of crime is beneficial to the country for multiple reasons, not least securing our natural assets for current and future generations. Rhinos contribute towards natural ecosystem functioning and our nature-based tourism, which creates a significant number of sustainable jobs and livelihoods while bringing in foreign exchange."

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Michelle Nel
Michelle Nel has worked as a freelance environmental journalist, photographer and editor for more than 20 years. She is a member of Al Gore’s Climate Leadership Corps and was the first freelancer to win the SAB Environmentalist Journalist of the Year Award for print. She serves on the Linbro Park Environmental Monitoring Committee in Gauteng, which aims to turn a closed landfill site into a recycling and recreational area. She has helped numerous organisations with their communications strategies on issues ranging from people and parks to wetlands.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

R350 social relief grant not enough to live on

Nearly half of the population in South Africa — one of the most unequal countries in the world — is considered chronically poor.

More top stories

R350 social relief grant not enough to live on

Nearly half of the population in South Africa — one of the most unequal countries in the world — is considered chronically poor.

US fashion contaminates Africa’s water

Untreated effluent from textile factories in in Lesotho, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius and Madagascar pours into rivers, contaminating the water

Deep seabed mining a threat to Africa’s coral reefs

The deep oceans are a fragile final frontier, largely unknown and untouched but mining companies and governments — other than those in Africa — are eying its mineral riches

Komodo dragon faces extinction

The world’s largest monitor lizard has moved up the red list for threatened species, with fewer than 4 000 of the species left

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…