South Africa’s Balule Nature Reserve has a new ally in the fight to keep roaming animals safe from predators – camera phones fitted in protective cases that stream images of their activities to thousands of ‘virtual rangers’ around the world . Due to erosion between stores across Africa, as well as funds-laced tourism lulls on poaching patrols, Balule has teamed up with handset maker Samsung and tech pioneer Afrikam to supplement the workforce with eyes and ears . More than 55,000 people have become virtual rangers since this project, called Wildlife Watch.
“We need more eyes; We need to help more people, ”said Lita Makhabella, a member of the park’s all-female anti-poising unit called the Black Mamba. The Black Mamba is simply a unit of anti-female poachers, established in 2013 with the aim of protecting wildlife in the area of 400 square kilometers of the Balele Nature Reserve and Greater Krueger National Park.
“They can become a ranger by staying at home and they can save a rhino every day.”
Located in Limpopo province and home to the ‘big five’ of rhinos, lions, leopards, elephants and buffalo, Baleoul is part of South Africa’s premier Kruger National Park.
Mkhabela and his colleagues used the same model of phone for communication and for capturing images of suspicious activity during patrolling, while other handsets have been fitted to monitor the perimeter fence.
The Swiss-based environmental network, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said that poaching patrols have been cut in more than half of Africa’s protected sites due to the effects of the epidemic.
The Deputy Leader of Wildlife Practice at WDF-International, Wendy Elliott, said that one in five rangers has been placed globally. Meanwhile, job losses and increasing poverty have prompted an increase in bush meat hunting.
But, to Mukbela’s relief, Baleul is returning. Viewers of the park’s streaming service have already reported hearing gunshots – indicating the possibility of predators – and alerting the ranger to animals trapped for rescue.
Mukhabela said, “I want my grandfather to see rhinos in the coming years.”