The anti-poaching capabilities of the Kruger National Park ranger corps has been boosted by the addition of two specialist off-road vehicles and new field equipment supplied by SANParks Honorary Rangers.
The vehicles are John Deere Gator extreme terrain vehicles (ETVs) and will be used by the park’s environmental crime investigation unit to speedily access crime scenes where rhino have been poached or move into difficult and inaccessible terrain.
The ETVs cost around R700 000 and added to equipment including tents, rifle slings, sleeping bags, backpacks, camping and other essential equipment for use infield make the latest SANParks Honorary Rangers contribution to the anti-poaching effort worth more than R2 million.
“The war on poaching is basically a para-military operation nowadays and without the necessary equipment the ranger corps would be at a disadvantage in their continuous search for poachers,” said John Turner, chairman of SANParks Honorary Rangers conservation services unit, who facilitated the supply of the latest batch of equipment.
One of the primary missions of the Gator ETVs would be speedy access to crime scenes enabling swift completion of post-mortems on poached carcasses. They would also be used by section rangers for patrolling and the park’s K9 unit would also utilise them when moving through difficult terrain in an effort to speed up the capture and arrest process of suspects.
Senior section ranger Marius Renke said the rangers were “thankful for the addition of the Gator to their ‘toolbox’ “.
“It’s going to be handy especially when spoor has been picked up in a detection zone. Field ranger teams are then deployed to try and pick up the spoor further along the direction of movement. If it is picked up, the team initially following the spoor is then picked up from the management block, sometimes far away from roads, using the Gator and moved forward. The team does not have to walk through the block which saves time and energy. It also helps us gain ground on the poachers working on the 'leap frogging' principle”.
“In summer tracking dogs get tired and over-heated quickly, but with the Gator dogs can be collected from wherever they are in the bush and moved to where the freshest spoor is. While on the Gator the dogs rest and can also be re-hydrated. Again, valuable ground is also gained on suspects,” Renke said.
SANParks Honorary Rangers Chairman Louis Lemmer said: “In the war against poachers, rangers endure extreme hardships – being away from their families and facing constant danger, including being shot at, from poachers. So, if we as SANParks Honorary Rangers can make a difference, by making their work easier, we are adding to their effectiveness. These vehicles will shorten response times and help rangers reach hotspots which can otherwise only be reached on foot”.
To date this year more than 700 rhino have been killed nationally with the bulk of the deaths coming in Kruger.