By Varushka Padayachi
BEAULIEU – Beaulieu native, Michael Thomson (20) has been chosen to be part of a special anti-poaching task force at Thornybush Game Reserve in Limpopo.
Thomson said six people who excelled at their job as rangers were chosen for the task force. He explained that the training to become part of the unit was intense with obstacle courses, tracking, snake handling and shooting. Thomson said the unit starts every day with a 30km foot patrol through the bush, where they track animals, mainly rhino. From there they do fence checks, and at night conduct roadblocks in the reserve.
“Since I started, I’ve been in three roadblocks which have led to two arrests,” Thomson said.
“In one of the roadblocks we found out that one of the poachers was an ex-army guy.”
He said most of the poachers the unit comes across are after rhino horn but there is also poaching for meat and sometimes muti-killings. All-in-all Thomson’s task force has apprehended nine poachers.
“We can’t stop every poacher, but we need to show visibility,” he said.
“When the moon is full we only ever get two hours’ sleep because a full moon is the poacher’s torch.”
Thomson has become used to sleeping under the stars, he works at the reserve for 16 days straight then gets 16 days leave.
“We don’t bath for the whole 16 days, and at night we build a lapa out of thorn trees and eat the rations that we carry with us,” he said.
Despite the hard life, Thomson remains passionate about nature and committed to the war against poaching.
He has numerous anecdotes about the animals he’s seen up close and personal, but said one of the best and worst experiences he had was coming face-to-face with a leopard at night.
“I was walking back to camp one night and literally walked into a leopard,” he said.
“I stood my ground because moving would have alarmed it. Luckily another ranger drove by in a vehicle and shone his lights on it and it turned and dashed off into the bush.”