The contribution the military makes to counter-poaching operations will not be improved by the current mission preparedness training employed by specifically the SA Army, according to the man in charge of SANParks special projects.
Retired Major General Johan Jooste told a border surveillance technology co-operation seminar that one of the biggest problems facing him in the ongoing campaign against rhino poachers was that of turning people trained as conservationists – rangers – into “operators”.
“I ask myself if it’s right to train people whose function is protection of species, from grass through to birds and animals to become almost like Special Forces operators.
“When rangers go on patrol in search of rhino poachers they are up against an enemy who comes into Kruger for one to four days at a time with the express intention of killing rhino. He has the bushcraft and skills to survive on very little for that period of time and I am putting people in harm’s way trying to stop and apprehend him.
“Sure their job is to protect species and anti-poaching operations are part of it but it is a worrying aspect of current operations in the Kruger National Park.”
On the military, particularly the SA Army, making a bigger contribution to stopping rhino poaching, Jooste said it wouldn’t happen until there was a shift of focus in training doctrine of the landward arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
“Anti- and counter-poaching operations will remain a collateral task for soldiers and other military personnel deployed on border protection (Operation Corona) until there is a focus shift,” he said adding good training and doctrine would, in time and if deployed, be an asset against poachers.
While others, including David Mabunda, the former chief executive of SANParks, see South Africa fighting a war against rhino poaching, Jooste is more pragmatic.
“The war against rhino poaching is an international one with engagements on many fronts. I see us in South Africa as being involved in a campaign, part of the overall war, but an important one because this is where by far the majority of the world’s rhinos are.”
Latest rhino kill statistics from the Department of Environmental Affairs show South Africa is losing rhinos at a rate of over three a day with 769 killed to date this year. By far the majority of these – 489 – have fallen to poachers’ high-powered hunting rifles in Kruger. 227 people have been arrested this year in connection with poaching.