Raising Awareness at Grassroots Kingston schools are the new front in a local soldier’s fight against poaching in Africa. Dermot Kavanagh, 28, from Putney, recently returned from a trip to South Africa where he served as a volunteer in the fight against poaching and helped foil gangs of armed poachers who were aiming to kill endangered rhinos. Dermot, a Lance Corporal in the Army Reserve’s Royal Yeomanry, recently served as a volunteer with Veterans For Wildlife. Since his return he has embarked on a series of talks to spread the word about conservation, starting with Robin Hood School. The main message I’m trying to get across to students is the importance of looking after all our wildlife and our planet in general. The talks touch on my time in the Kruger National Park, the animals that live there and how every animal plays a part. I also cover how important it is to look after them and what the children can do to protect the environment, such as recycling. South Africa has fast become my favourite place on the planet and the African bush has a very special place in my heart now. Dermot became passionate about Africa’s wildlife after a safari holiday and on his return he scoured the web for information on how to get involved in fighting the scourge of poaching. That’s where he found Veterans for Wildlife. Dermot said that although he knew from his research that the problem of poaching was bad it was not until he experienced it first hand that it really hit home. The brutality is hard to put into words but I know that seeing three rhino carcasses within twenty minutes is something that will live with me forever. South Africa is home to most of Africa’s remaining rhinos, but about a thousand a year are illegally killed by poachers who are after the animals’ horns. Rhino horn is prized in parts of Asia, especially Vietnam, where it is used in traditional medicine or simply as a status symbol for wealthy individuals. It’s not all bad news, however, and Dermot, who spent time manning a high tech ‘wide area surveillance system’, helped stop some would-be poachers. Dubbed the ‘Postcode Meerkat’, the system Dermot manned uses an array of radar and electro-optic sensors to detect poachers moving illegally through the Kruger National Park. Smart thinking technology allows the system to pick up the difference between humans and animals in the wildlife-rich park. Postcode Meerkat was developed by South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and is also funded by the Peace Parks Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes cross-border conservation initiatives in Africa. The highlight of the trip was catching a group of poachers within a few days of being deployed. It was an amazing feeling knowing that a rhino didn’t die that night due to us catching a group. I believe that education plays a huge role in the future of this planet and the animals that live on it. We are currently destroying the planet and its inhabitants at an alarming rate and one of the vital ways of stopping this is to educate future generations so that they don’t make the same mistakes that we have. Dermot will be speaking at Robin Hood Primary School on May 25, and St Paul’s Primary School on June 5.