Nica Richards, The Citizen | April 17, 2021
Public outcries over the rearranging of rhino anti-poaching rangers in the Kruger National Park (KNP) have prompted the South African National Parks (SANParks) to explain their reasoning behind this decision.
NGO Saving the Wild recently made a plea to the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) to keep popular ranger Don English in the park’s intense protection zone (IPZ), saying his move further north means “poaching syndicates will infiltrate and smash the IPZ, and a lot of rhinos will be shot and slaughtered”.
Speaking to SANParks media liaison Isaac Phaahla, he assured there were a number of well thought-out reasons behind this decision.
These were summarised in a last-minute statement to the media on Friday afternoon.
Declining rhino populations
Despite significant efforts, the KNP’s rhino population continues to suffer, due to “a range of factors”.
A strategic workshop held by SANParks saw plans being made “to reverse the current negative trend in the rhino population”.
This revealed the start of new initiatives “aimed to adjust the organisation’s current security efforts”.
“It is clear that structural change, greater collaboration with and support for our rangers is required.”
One of the ways in which the park has coped with the amount of rhino poaching was to set up an IPZ, a joint protective zone (JPZ) and a combined protective zone (CPZ). The latter will be formed further north in the park.
At the moment, KNP anti-poaching and conservation efforts comprise of a head ranger, four regional rangers and 22 section rangers, as well as numerous field rangers in each section.
An additional unit is also managed by a regional ranger for special operations, a Tracker dog unit and a technology manager, as well as a dedicated operations centre.
Entry points in and out of the park are managed by the park’s protection services unit.
All rangers are supported by an air support unit and an environmental crime investigation unit. There are also partnerships with police.
In addition, there is a sporting conservation and science service, as well as veterinary wildlife units.
Part of the conditions of ranger services is that they move “periodically”, which SANParks said was done “for many reasons”.
This relates to security, but also that “the workload is shared so that rangers, working in demanding areas which experience regular contacts with poachers, are rotated.”
There is also a need for skills transfers, new opportunities, and capitalising on “individual strengths.”
As such, two regional rangers and six section rangers will soon be rotated. This includes regional ranger Don English.
Rotations will continue over the next 12 months, “and into the future”.
“Regional ranger Don English has extensive experience in anti-poaching and conservation matters, and his skills are valuable in managing the ecosystem in the KNP, collectively with the entire management team.
“Consultation with rangers on the proposed moves are at an advanced stage,” SANParks added.
“These movements relate to the employment relationship between the employer and employee, are of a sensitive security nature, and SANParks does not wish to make any further statements on this matter at the current time.”