By Christopher Clark
In July and August, a raft of new recruits made it through weeks of gruelling tests to bolster the overall number of field rangers in North-West Province, following a drive by parks in the area to attract interest from local communities.
In Pilanesberg alone, over 1,000 applications were received from local communities. 30 of these applicants passed the initial week long fitness and weapons handling tests and went on to spend a further 2 weeks training inside the park. The training is based on a holistic approach. In between fitness and battery tests, casevacs, sleep deprivation and aggression tests, the trainees discuss HIV-Aids, other health aspects and broader life issues where they could get to know one another as well as share knowledge, understanding and experiences.
17 from the group of 30 eventually passed all the required tests and graduated.
The main duties of the field rangers are to protect and preserve the parks they operate in and all the flora and fauna that falls within these boundaries. Anti-poaching is a particularly important part of that mandate, and the new recruits add much needed weight in the war against the scourge of rhino poaching. Since 5 of its rhinos were killed in 2010, Pilanesberg’s proactive approach has kept poaching to a minimum within the park, while sadly other parks in the region have seen numbers of rhino deaths from poaching increase drastically in recent years.
The call for field ranger applicants from within local communities can be seen as another proactive step in the fight against poaching, as previously South Africa has been criticized for not doing enough to help these communities to benefit directly from the national parks and reserves and to feel an increased sense of responsibility for the wildlife that makes these places so special. Some have argued that previous “exclusion” of these often impoverished local communities is exactly what has led some within those communities to turn to poaching.
It’s good to see that Pilanesberg and other parks are doing what they can to ensure that from now on these local communities are fighting for the right team. And we wish the brave and determined new recruits the best of luck in their new capacity.