Muizenberg doc crosses borders to save rhinos

If you have a passion, just go for it, money at hand or not. So much the better if it is for a good cause and can help a whole slew of other causes.

And you have a PhD that suits? Wa-hey!

Andries Heyns is that enviable combination of gung-ho volunteer (wildfire fighter, volunteer at Fisantekraal Animal Welfare, later this year he will be joining Doctors Without Borders) and brainy academic.

Besides doing research left, right and centre, he has a BEng degree in electronic engineering and computer science (final year project on infra-red alarm sensors), an MSc degree (military decision-making principles), and has just graduated with a PhD through the University of Stellenbosch where his research focused on the optimal placement of facilities according to terrain and environmental factors.

Oh, then he studied French as an extra subject to take advantage of the “extra time” he had while doing his Master’s (graduating cum laud, nogal).

Then he was an English assistant at public schools in Reunion Island for 15 months between 2010 and 2011 where he got a lot of practical speaking experience; and returning for his PhD he studied more French “on the side”.

So when he helps out with Doctors Without Borders in places such as Burundi and Congo, it will be as a fieldworker in logistics, planning and French interpretation.

But to the passion at hand. Andries – or should we say Dr Heyns? – is ready to take on rhino poaching.

“I’d much rather sweat like a pig out in nature for weeks on end in order to save a rhino than sit in a nice air-conditioned office staring at a screen all day long,” he says.

“My plan is to apply my background in electronics, military decision making and geographic facility location optimisation to design some pretty damn amazing surveillance networks to aid in anti-poaching operations.

“These networks will combine equipment such as day/night surveillance cameras, acoustic (gunshot) sensors and other nifty electronics.”

All this added to becoming a fully qualified anti-poaching ranger by attending an intensive – but expensive – military style anti-poaching course in Touws River.

But the course costs R24 000. Add to that the additional R6 000 needed for equipment costs.

Factor in that this is someone who has only just graduated with his PhD after full-time study, and you can see why Andries’s thoughts turn to crowd funding, a web page where people can contribute a few rand, a few hundred rand, or a few thousand rand, towards Andries’ goal of hitting the poachers where it hurts.

Surveillance and detection for anti-poaching purposes is nothing new, says Andries.

What he has is a relatively quick and easy way to design specific networks to suit the very different problems encountered as far as terrain and movement detection go.

And although he would be a ranger like the others, what he would be able to do is incorporate his on-the-ground experience as a ranger to advance his surveillance and detection research.

“I will be able to experience the success of my research first- hand.

“Eventually, I will be able to experience the entire development and improvement process from the top (research) to the bottom (field), and then I will be able to take glitches/ideas/failures and work them back up to the top again and repeat the cycle,” he says.

This would obviously benefit himself and other rangers -and the rhinos. Or anything that needs detecting or protecting, such as early-warning smoke and fire detection.

“I’m continuing my research in my own capacity this year (bumming with my family and already living off a sizable debt, and volunteer fire fighting costs a lot more to do than you’d expect) and currently “I’m writing another research article for submission to an international scientific journal, with the hope that this will also strengthen my application for funding for next year.”

Besides living hither and yon when studying or volunteering, Andries is a Muizenberg boytjie.

His mom Venesia Heyns (formerly Martin) and his late father, also called Andries Heyns (he passed away in 1997) started teaching together at Muizenberg High School in 1978, got married in 1979, and continued teaching together until 1994.

“We’ve always lived next to the high school and still live here now,” said Andries.

“I moved back to Muizenberg in January and people will often see me walking my two dogs at the beach, along the vlei or in the mountains above Muizenberg and Kalk Bay.”

The anti-poaching course begins on May 2 so Andries has only until April 28 to try to raise sufficient funds.

If you are interested in donating a rand or two or more, and seeing more about Andries, go to http://jumpstarter.co.za/campaigns/anti-poaching-course-research-purposes/ .