North West rangers boost their counter-poaching skills


British Special Forces tactics have been added to the skills sets of rangers working anti-poaching operations in the North West province.

While the Kruger National Park remains the preferred target of rhino poachers, the North West is home to a number of large parks and game reserves and has also been on the receiving end of poaching, with 75 rhinos killed to date this year.

This alarming figure prompted the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, through the Paramount Group, to become involved as it has in Kruger where a Seabird Seeker observation aircraft is providing extra eyes in the sky in the ongoing battle against poachers.

The Foundation’s Eric Ichikowitz said a special retraining programme, designed by veteran British Special Forces specialist Alan Ives, was presented to North West Parks and Tourism Board rangers and others doing anti-poaching operations in the province’s 14 parks. These include Pilanesberg and Borakalalo national parks as well as the Madikwe and Mafikeng game reserves.

The programme is designed to beef up the combat skills of rangers who, according to Madikwe operations manager Declan Hofmeyr, have increasingly come under fire when on anti-poaching patrols.
“In the past poachers carried homemade guns, today we are confiscating high-calibre hunting rifles with silencers, pangas, AK-47s, shotguns and pistols,” he said.

To better equip and prepare those in the forefront of anti-poaching operations in the North West for their work, the Ives-developed training has upped their surveillance skills. In another change from the norm they are wearing camouflage to make them less visible as well as working in smaller teams to cut down the chances of being spotted by poachers.

Madikwe is also working on obtaining improved radio communications equipment to eliminate eavesdropping on radio nets by poachers.
“Currently poachers have better equipment and monitor (provincial) government communications and the movement of rangers and counter-poaching units,” Hofmeyr said.

The first six week long course ended recently and plans are afoot to take it to other parks and reserves in the province.

In terms of the threat posed by poachers, Ichikowitz said: “Conservation officers who have in the past dealt with snares, bush weed, tracking and breeding programmes are now finding themselves in full combat situations fighting well-armed poachers”.