A Tactical Joint Operation Centre, also known as the Nerve Centre, has been launched at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast.

The US funded state of the art facility is used to combat poaching and other illegal activities. Police and highly-trained rangers are part of the programme.

Last year 222 rhino were poached for their horns in KwaZulu-Natal alone.

The Nerve Centre will allow reaction, operations and planning to be linked with other rhino reserves. Among other things, it boasts animal tracking, intelligence camera trap, co-ordination map that shows activities in the park and image recognition.

Handing over the high-tech centre, US Consul General to KwaZulu-Natal, Sherry Zalika Sykes, says they are hoping to see an increased population of healthy rhino. She says they are also hoping it will provide much-needed information that will lead to arrests and successful prosecutions.

“The need to have comprehensive system that brings all those different forms of information together so that in real time we can catch poachers and traffickers of wildlife so that they can be adequately prosecuted and deter the poaching in the first place through effective prosecution. That prevents when people know that the comprehensive are watching. It’s not just one ranger, it’s not just one helicopter.”

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park manager, Jabulani Ngubane describes how the centre will work.

“Basically the nerve centre is a heartbeat of the operation like for instance we have copied the SANDF style whereby we have to coordinate everything that we do. You need to know where your guys are at a particular moment and be able to direct them because you will remember that some of the operations happens at night so that it doesn’t happen but also increases your chances of your success as well.”

The park has the highest number of rhino. All white rhino population in the world reportedly come from this park.

Acting Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife CEO, Bheki Khoza, has heaped praise on the US for funding the centre. He says it will provide much-need support to fighting the scourge of rhino poaching.

“Improving our communications to assist our field-based law enforcement staff and also it will provide connectivity and also connectivity with various picket camps and outposts in the park and other agencies like SAPS and our conservation agencies like SA National Park and it will assist in coordination of the information and networking.”

Peace Parks Foundation has provided technical support to the project as well as technology.

The foundation’s CEO Werner Myburgh  says the project needs to be applied across all parks, especially in areas close to the border.

“The reality is that poaching won’t stop necessarily. The poachers and criminals will take their business elsewhere because it’s lucrative and they make a lot of money. The only solution to that is to get better in your anti-poaching efforts in those areas where moved in. So in a long term you will be able to expand this type of support that being given not only to one park, one big park but to many parks.”

The same programme was also launched in the Kruger National Park in 2015 and is said to be bearing fruits.