Small things - big difference
(A version of this article was originally published in The Horn, autumn 2009. Authors: Dirk Swart and Lawrence Munro, Section Rangers, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park)
One of the perks of our job is to be able to hand out much-needed field equipment and take photos of happy rangers to send back to our much-appreciated funders.
Field equipment is essential for our field rangers to be able to do their jobs effectively. Our field rangers work under difficult conditions, in remote areas and often in extreme weather. Having good basic equipment like tents, sleeping bags and backpacks makes this far more tolerable, and greatly improves staff morale and effectiveness.
Recent grants have enabled the purchase of 60 belt-sized first aid kits which have been a godsend. The kits are of a comfortable size and every field ranger and fence liner is in possession of one, and is actively taking them into the field with them. 60 x 18-litre green daypacks were also purchased. The smiles on law enforcement staff faces after receiving them were priceless; they can now carry water bottles, raincoats, first aid kits and binoculars comfortably into the field, allowing them to concentrate on the job in hand. Fencing pliers were issued to each fence line maintenance staff member. These versatile instruments are the most important item needed to maintain the fence in the field. They are used to cut, join, tighten, and append electric fence components. A M36 electric fence energiser was also procured. This energiser is extremely strong and can ensure that 360km of electric wire fence line has 10,000 volts, thus ensuring the utmost integrity of the northern boundary of Hluhluwe, which borders very closely with impoverished communities who cannot afford to have rhino, elephant and buffalo ploughing through farmland, or leopard and lion killing livestock. We also now use rapid-charge AA battery cell chargers. According to records, 1 rechargeable battery is equivalent to over 1,000 normal batteries! So this is an environmentally sound and cheaper way of ensuring that all torches are lit and GPSs are kept working.
On the iMfolozi side of the park, 12 Camping Gaz stoves and extra cylinders were bought for field rangers camping out in poaching hotspots; 17 backpack covers to make packs waterproof and assist with camouflage for extended patrols; and 13 hiking mats. A lot of poaching takes place at night over full-moon, or late in the afternoon at last light. This is a time when it is difficult for field rangers to be out in the field far from their outposts if they are not camping. Being able to camp around the clock reduces the hit and miss approach to anticipating when poachers will be in a particular area. Field rangers’ movements should be unpredictable to poachers. By walking into a temporary base under cover, and staying there, well hidden for a few days, poachers generally do not know their whereabouts. If they stay every night at their outpost, it is a lot easier for poachers to post lookouts for them.
The arrival of the two-way radios now provides good communication, which is essential for effective anti-poaching work, as well as rhino monitoring, and ensuring safety of staff working in a dangerous environment. The two-way radios are somewhat different to the older models we have been using and have been very well received. They have an extra security function that scrambles communication to other radios on the same frequency, which don't have a code number entered into them. The advantage to this is that it ensures completely secure conversation between whoever's using the new radios during anti-poaching work, but they can also be unscrambled for general communication. Communication is probably one of the most important aspects in law enforcement within the Park.
Credit: Dirk Swart
The fact that staff are hardworking and honest reflects on their happiness in the workplace, having been given the best support possible to do their jobs to the highest standards. Our funders continued support in the struggle to protect and conserve our wildlife from unscrupulous poaching syndicates and other such pressures is greatly appreciated.
We would really like to thank the following funders, who have supported Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, in many cases for several years: Colchester Zoo’s Action for the Wild fund, Safari Club International Foundation, Safari Club International (London Chapter), and Salzburg Zoo. We are so pleased that their donations are having such an impact.
From: Dave Robertson
Sent: 28 August 2009 14:06
To: Dirk Swart; Lucy Boddam-Whetham
Cc: Cathy Dean
Some positive news from iMfolozi is that we arrested four rhino poachers red-handed two nights ago. A field ranger reported hearing a rifle shot late in the afternoon (traditionally a high risk time - poachers shoot an animal at last light and exit the Park under cover of darkness). We all raced to close off inside the Park while Lawrence Munro, the section ranger at Makhamisa section in the south, called the police from the nearest station at KwaMbonambi. He met up with them and they did a road block outside the Park on an access road. They were just in time to stop a pick-up with four people in it. Lawrence noticed blood on their clothes and when they were made to get out of the vehicle, he saw a .303 rifle inside. When they looked in the back, they saw two fresh white rhino horns dripping blood. We believe from their footwear and other factors that they are the same guys responsible for most of our poaching as well as the spate of poaching at Ophathe Game Reserve this year. We located the carcass early yesterday morning and recovered a bullet from the head. It's sad that we lost another rhino, but at least this one didn't die in vain. We're going to push for very heavy sentences. We're all over the moon here - everybody's been putting in huge effort for a long time and this has made it all worthwhile. The field rangers have had permanent smiles on their faces since the arrest!