Seven months into the year, the rhino death toll in South Africa already stands at 618. Indications are the hard-pushed ranger corps, supported by soldiers and police, is not going to stop last year’s rhino death toll of 1 004 of being exceeded.
Against this somewhat gloomy background, the broader South African conservation sector yesterday marked World Ranger Day with muted celebrations in the Addo Elephant and Kruger national parks.
Speaking at Kruger Gate where she unveiled a ranger monument, Deputy Environmental Affairs Minister, Barbara Thomson, said: “Nowhere is the importance of rangers clearer than in the fight against rhino poaching”.
She told guests, including Kruger rangers not on normal or specialist anti-poaching duties: “As government we need to boost morale of rangers by showing them their battle against poachers and other environmental crimes is not in vain. We want to tell you we understand and fully appreciate rhino poaching goes much deeper than mere physical security. Social and economic problems such as unemployment and poverty are part of the problem.
“In other words, it is a multi-dimensional problem that extends beyond provincial borders, countries and government departments and we are committed to develop a multi-dimensional combat strategy in support of your efforts.”
At the same time, African Union (AU) chair, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in Addis Ababa: “Police, immigration, judiciary, defence forces and others must assist game rangers and forest guards in combatting poaching in African countries.”
She was speaking after a meeting with the Congolese Minister of Sustainable Development and Forest Economy, Henri Djombo, to discuss a continental conference on poaching set for next year.
In Kruger, Louis Lemmer, SANParks Honorary Rangers national chairman, said: “A single day is never enough to celebrate the commitment and dedication of people who put their lives at risk to look after our children’s heritage.
“In the ongoing fight to preserve out natural heritage, World Ranger Day is just such a day. This day is observed across the world on July 31 and it is an opportunity to celebrate the work done by rangers everywhere and also to remember those who have lost their lives protecting South Africa’s national parks.”
The ranger monument, comprising a stone memorial and a massive leadwood stump, symbolising the ranger corps, is yet another honorary Rangers project.
“This monument is dedicated to the men and women who look after our parks,” Lemmer said at the unveiling ceremony.
The latest rhino kill statistics released by the Department of Environment Affairs show every one of South Africa’s nine provinces has been hit by rhino poachers.
At the bottom of the list are Gauteng, Northern and Western Cape, which have each lost a single rhino. The Kruger National Park still the preferred killing ground for poachers, with a seven month death toll of 400.
A hundred and seventy-two arrests in connection with rhino poaching have been made this year.