There lies a place in South Africa, that once experienced it, it remains with you forever. Marataba, a 21,000-hectare (52,000-acre), privately-managed section of the Marakele National Park, is uniquely situated where lush bushveld gives way to the Kalahari sands in South Africa’s Limpopo Province. Officially known as a Contractual National Park, Marataba is one of South Africa’s most innovative conservation models and the focus is firmly on protecting the area’s diverse flora and fauna through modern conservation practices.
The Conserv earth Team recently hosted a conservation safari with members of the board and few of our donors to help rhino conservation efforts at Marataba. With the Waterberg region being one of the last true strongholds of rhino populations in Africa, the protection of these animals is of vital importance for the survival of both black and white rhino. What is vital is knowledge of the rhino’s movements and any change of behavior that they exhibit. This is extremely difficult with a large free roaming population, often in difficult terrain, so a way of monitoring and understanding this had to be found. This is where things got interesting and rather clever… As rhino physiology does not allow for a tracking neck collar to be fitted, a foot collar had to be used. This provides its own challenges as rhino have been notorious for breaking these collars off when they wallow, scratch themselves at rubbing posts and in general daily life. What adds to the difficulty, is that the traditional telemetry-based foot collars require man hours and time to locate each individual rhino that nees to be seen and assessed for research purposes. It is very reactionary to poaching as there is no clear-cut way of knowing if rhino is in distress or has been poached unless the animal is found. However, new technology and an ingenious system has been developed. New “Smart” foot collars are being fitted, and in conjunction with communication towers around the reserve, these technologically forward-thinking devices transmit data that an algorithm learns from and creates a behavior profile for each rhino. This is extremely important, as if a rhino starts to behave differently it will immediately send a signal to the conservation team. They can react instantly, and whatever the cause they can ascertain if the rhino is in trouble.
This is groundbreaking, as you have a virtual view into every rhino’s behavior that is transmitting data. It is still reactionary to a point, but the time scale involved to learn of a rhino in distress is reduced dramatically. This really helps with any veterinary help needed from an incident, and if any poaching activity is detected, the anti -poaching team can narrow down the area and have a much greater chance of catching the poachers. It is also a phenomenal tool for rhino research and understanding the population on the reserve. We have donated several collars to this cause, and we are in the process of expanding this as well as getting involved in a project to help protect the greater Waterberg region. It is very exciting!
Congrats to Dr Andre Uys and SP Le Roux (foot collar technology developer) for their hard work and tireless efforts to conserve this iconic species. We will be back soon and update you all on the progress…