|Rhino defenders go to war|
Cape Town - More than 20 years after the last shots were fired in southern Africa’s bush wars of liberation, there was a strong sense of déjà vu in and around Mokhohlolo camp in the south-eastern corner of Kruger National Park this week.
Camouflaged uniforms, automatic assault rifles, radios, light-intensifying night sights, GPS receivers… and, chillingly, a medical “trauma pack”. Talk of “covert insertion”, deployment of a “rapid reaction unit” by choppers, tracking, follow-up operations, intelligence…
In one of the world’s last great wilderness areas, there’s a new counter-insurgency war being waged… and there’s the same bloody body count. The communiqués now are about the softest of soft targets – black and white rhinos.
This year, even the optimists are forecasting we could lose more than 500 of these unique animals.
Yet, here in the dusty, sweltering Lowveld bush which is the frontline of the battle, the men and women fighting this fight for us, for all South Africans, are not about to throw in the towel...they are taking the fight to the enemy – and risking their lives in the process.
That fight will be fought here, in the tamboeti and leadwood thickets, in our courts and, with a bit of luck, in the backyards of the people who share the misguided belief that rhino horn will cure their ailments.
Bruce Leslie, Regional Ranger: Special Operations and Anti-Poaching in Kruger, won’t make the mistake of under-estimating the capabilities of their foes.
Leslie demonstrates a number of effective small snares, which are the baby steps for a rhino poacher.
“These guys, they can’t go to the nearest shop for their food… even if they did have money, the shop’s three days away. So, they get what they want from the land. And they learn young, as herdboys, when they have hours to perfect their skills and to learn about animal behaviour.”
Most of them are Shangaans from across the border in Mozambique where development has not yet penetrated deep into the interior and where poverty means “a man will do what he has to do – and he will use the skills he has – to take care of his family.”