Dr. Peter C. Baker
207 A Jan Smuts Avenue
17 June 2013.
I am writing to you in the knowledge that you are as I am, passionate about this country, which despite its problems is the best place on the planet to live. We have particular issues which must be settled but we have the will I believe to move on to a brighter future for all of us, and I say this as a Canadian born South African. We have the creative intellect and people to make everything possible.
Some few months ago I became involved in the issue of poaching, in particular rhino poaching which was not really being brought under control; in fact it was getting more and more grave every month. We are in danger of losing a species forever. We cannot tolerate this any longer. I made a fairly in-depth study of the plethora of outfits which were involved with this scourge, whether from an informative or reactive perspective. There were about 23 main players at last count; several are overseas based.
The following is the back ground to the motivation for the establishment of the 0-800-RHINOS operation.
As I have mentioned I made an investigation of the large number of associations and organisations and telephone numbers which individuals with potentially helpful information could call to relay to authorities which might be in a position to react. Many of these numbers are private and others are run by organisations such as the Department of Environmental Affairs, SAN Parks and the HAWKS. I learned that for example SAN Parks is planning to open a Central Operational Command Centre, (COCC) which will fit hand in glove with our Central Information Command Centre (CICC); 0-800-RHINOS.
I did a prolonged telephonic survey of virtually every organisation and found their ability to receive, process and transfer information was really very dismal. Phones were not answered or referred to voice mail (which was never answered, or in the rare case that it was it was 3 or 4 days later). The government Department of the Environment seemed to be able to make a report which is processed the following day: too late if it is a poaching incident being reported.
Many of the private organisations which are involved seem as intent on selling something to support their cause, (control over which profits, seems often to be weak) as saving our rhinos. I do not believe that the solution to the rhino poaching disaster rests with shipping them to Botswana where we presumably have no control. Furthermore it does not solve our endemic poaching problem, which if we continue to let run rampant, will certainly see a far wider range of fauna and flora being poached. I believe that we have reached the stage where everyone knows and is informed about the problem of poaching: the time has more than come for action!
I have found also that there appears to be a lack of smooth and efficient communication from province to province and organisation to organisation. This is where I am sure that we have something to offer all operators in the fight against poaching country wide. I believe that there must be a focused drive to attract information from everyone in the country and cities, wherever poaching operatives are to be found, be they in the KNP or Cyrildene.
With the above in mind I have established the 0-800-RHINOS number which will be a truly toll free number, with the aim of making it accessible to every South African, whether they are calling from a Telkom land line or from a cell phone of any of the service providers, regardless of air time credit. It must be a toll free number in the true sense of the word. I anticipate that much of our intel will come from poor rural communities with little or no available airtime on their devices.
The CSIR is responsible for the formation of an integrated system where by intel from the public is channeled quickly to reaction teams, whether in SAN Parks, Private Reserves or Provincial Parks. The CSIR has indicated that 0-800-RHINOS will be the chosen portal regarding poaching for all intel coming into the system which they are overseeing. Furthermore on the marine and fisheries front the Government of the Western Cape and the City of Cape Town environmental departments have elected to use this same portal for incoming information regarding coastal and fisheries poaching.
What will enable our free service to be unique is that we shall be in a position to operate country wide: one number whether the incident being reported is a fisheries related one, off the coast of the Eastern Cape, a poacher in Northern KZN, or KNP or on a farm outside Mafeking. 0-800-RHINOS will be equally aroused whether it be a rhino poacher or someone digging up cycads. At present this facility does not exist.
As the call centre develops we shall establish what we call the "golden network" which will be from the caller with intel to the 0-800-RHINOS office and directly to the reaction operative in the exact area where the incident is taking place. The software management programme which has been developed especially for 0-800-RHINOS will enable us to pinpoint the physical location of the caller (hopefully enabling the system to reduce fraudulent calls) as well as immediately forward all data captured by the system to the reaction units for the sector in question. One of the worries expressed by the KZN Parks Board was the issue of linguistic abilities of the call centre operators: a valid point. We shall be able to have a translator, for any language, from Somali to Hindi or Shangaan, on the line within 24 seconds according to the people from RealConnect who have developed the system.
We are going to be well organized on the initial part of the network but it will obviously be vital that the relay process to all operational units working for which ever service is faultless and seamless and quick enough to investigate, intervene and make arrests if required. Good and actionable information from the public will be rewarded.
0-800-RHINOS will be the channel to report abuses and theft of all threatened species: flora and fauna. Again at present there is no Central Information Command Centre, enabling criminals to deplete our natural resources, seemingly at will.
The 0-800-RHINOS call centre, which has been sponsored by Samsung, Toptel and RealConnect, will be housed initially at the Parktown North Veterinary Clinic, which is operational 24/7.
0-800-RHINOS is set to become the most universally known number in South Africa by the end of the year. Several companies including AdReach, Grayhouse Promotions, and Textile Junction are sponsoring the public awareness side of the operation. I am determined to reduce the incidence of rhinos poached per year to 50, and then reduce that even further.
I am also determined that all groups work together to make our shared goal, which must be to reduce poaching to a "livable level" if I can use that oxymoron.
Dr. Peter C. Baker