By Michael Appel
As the media continue to focus on the continued slaughter of rhinos, with questions around why more is not being done to stop the slaughter, it is easy to forget those few who work around the clock to stem the flow.
The Kruger National Park, with a surface area of more than 2 million hectares, is guarded full time by only 339 field rangers under the command of 22 section rangers. This equates to about 15 field rangers per section of the park.
In charge of the entire anti-poaching operation is retired Maj-Gen Johan Jooste.
“Converting rangers into field rangers is a difficult task. These are men and women who went into this job because they love animals. It requires a lot of additional training. The job of a field ranger carries higher stress and risk and is compounded by the challenge of having the right resources and equipment,” Jooste said.
Anti-poaching operations are largely reactive at present.
Field rangers are also highly skilled at tracking spoor, human or otherwise, in the bush, and will often follow poachers’ footprints for days trying to track them down either before, or after they’ve struck.
Ken Maggs, head of SANParks’ criminal investigative unit, said one of the biggest problems they had was gathering intelligence.
“The more intelligence we have the more we can focus our limited resources. Environmental intelligence is critical, such as where water is, where large groupings of animals are, and in particular, where the concentration of rhino are,” Maggs said.
The job is dangerous and as Maggs says, they face the threat of death daily. “We can have up to 10 armed incursions in one day. We had three armed contacts in one afternoon the other day”
To become a field ranger involves a selection course, basic training, an eight-week field training course followed by advanced training.
All candidates are also vetted for any criminal records. More....