By Zane Engelbrecht
Recently, I had the very fortunate opportunity to take a hands on approach in the rhino poaching crisis. So, armed only with my camera, my mission was simple; see what I could do to help.
As we all know, the poaching situation all over Africa is at a peak. Protrack anti-poaching unit, located in Hoedspruit, is one of many private companies working with the government to try and put a stop to the problem or at the very least, slow it down. Sadly their mission is failing thus far. Why? Simple really, there is very little financial help and, compared to the vast amount of land that needs to be covered, a significant lack of manpower. Meaning we are loosing animals at a truly horrifying rate.
These are the men who are in the thick of it. I am talking about shootouts, arrests, ration packs and animal encounters in the middle of the night. Although I stood beside these men, armed with fairly impressive weapons, I was armed with only a camera so, as a mental note to myself I thought; “I shall be the one cowering in the background taking photographs should we end up with some ‘real’ action”.
The day started bright and early, as you would imagine with this line of work. As soon as I arrived they gave me my uniform, bag and food rations.
This unit wears the grey beret to signify they are the tactical squad. Their vehicle and entire squad are run completely on sponsors – everything from the weapons, uniform, vehicle, even the fuel and the food! This enables the squad to do their job to the best of their ability but there are nowhere near enough of them. If you wanted to properly patrol this vast area of land every night you would require 10 times this number of men, guns, vehicles etc.
Finally we set off into the bush around the greater Kruger area to deploy the teams in strategic positions. They work in two-man teams, one with the weapon and the other a scout. This is the most important part of the job, being vigilant is the only realistic way to stop the poachers.
The teams will spend 16 days together in the bush. More....