By Shipho Kings
Madikwe Game Reserve used to be the most poached placed outside of Kruger. But the rangers have learnt how to fight back - and word has spread.
Two black rhino are pulling the new, spring leaves off a thicket of bushes in Madikwe Game Reserve in the North West. The sound of their teeth grinding the sustenance is occasionally tempered by rolling thunder in the distance. Their dark grey hides blend into the brush, but their massive bulk and the scarcity of thick trees means they still stand out. This makes them sitting targets for poachers – their ears might be constantly rotating for any sound, but their vision is very poor. At best, they can hear something 50m away.
But they are alive, and so are many other rhino thanks to the training being given to the reserve's rangers and anti-poaching teams. In the past, the rangers were poorly equipped and could not hit a target at 25m. Now they can hit one at more than 600m. They are also better equipped and trained to react calmly when in a firefight – even with their shooting ability, most contacts happen at 60m because the bush offers hiding places, making the interactions sudden.
"The bush grapevine has been working and the poachers now know if they get into a fight with these guys they are in a proper scrap," says Alan Ives. A former British army soldier, he has been putting the rangers through a rigorous course to get them on a level footing with poachers.
When he first arrived four months ago, the reserve was losing rhino every week, and the rate was accelerating. The rangers had undergone quick courses on how to shoot and do field-craft, and were then sent into a bush war. They had minimal ammunition and poachers would often engage in a fight at ranges more than 600m far, making them use their ammunition and retreat.
Ives has concentrated on the things rangers don't normally get trained to do, such as how to survive stress. More....