A group of American military veterans plans to train rangers at private wildlife farms and reserves in South Africa where rhino poachers have been active.
The US military publication, Stars and Stripes, reports that the “small conservation group Vetpaw had previously operated in Tanzania but was ordered to leave, partly because of a video in which a member spoke about killing poachers”.
Former US Marine and head of Vetpaw, Ryan Tate, said the member did not speak for the organisation and since the incident he has sought to rebrand Vetpaw.
The name is an acronym of “Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife” and the organisation has as its aim employment for skilled post 9/11 US military veterans. In return they will assist in conserving African wildlife, some species of which are rated critically endangered by the International Union of Conservation Organisation (IUCN). The majority of Vetpaw members have been deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He and US Navy veteran, Shea Peaton, have spent about a month in South Africa assessing security needs in several wildlife “parks”. They plan to offer training including marksmanship, field medicine and manoeuvring at night.
“People are desperate and want to try any and everything they can,” Peaton told the publication in reference of owners and operators of “private wildlife parks” that lack the resource State-run parks receive.
Earlier this month Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa met with the Private Rhino owners Association (PROA) to discuss rhino conservation in South Africa.
PROA said rhino poaching had had “a detrimental effect” on private reserves which held more than a third of South Africa’s total rhino population.
Last week suspected poachers shot and killed a ranger at a private reserve in Bel-Bela before killing a rhino for its horn.
Earlier this week two Kruger National Park field rangers were arrested on suspicion of involvement in rhino poaching activities.
The arrests were the culmination of an extensive follow-up operation conducted after a poached rhino carcass, with horns removed, was located by Nwanedzi rangers on June 16. Both suspects were detained at Skukuza Police Station pending further investigations.
They follow the suspension of two other field rangers, these attacked to the park’s special operations unit, and the arrest of a third field ranger, this one based at Satara.
“This is all the result of ongoing investigations by SANParks into rhino poaching in Kruger,” said the national conservation agency’s chief executive, Fundisile Mketeni.