The perilous 1,000-mile journey to save Africa’s endangered black rhinos
28 Oct 2022
On 16 May 2018, 39 recruits, three of them female, celebrated their graduation as rangers during a passout parade held in the Limpopo National Park, Mozambique. This follows the successful completion of a gruelling eight-week ranger training course presented by the Southern African Wildlife College, that prepared the new recruits for their stand against wildlife crime in the various conservation areas to which they will soon be deployed.
During the first two weeks of the course, the more than 100 applicants selected from the region were put through intensive mental and physical training sessions. Sourcing these candidates from communities surrounding the conservation areas contributes to job creation and improving community support for conservation within the region. Only the top 40 students were then selected to complete the remainder of the course which focused on both the practical and theoretical aspects of anti-poaching operations, such as patrolling, road-blocks, gate controls and arrest procedures. Senior Limpopo National Park rangers, as well as various local institutions, contributed to the curriculum by offering additional training support in conservation legislation, shooting skills and drill instruction.
At the end of the training, each ranger was evaluated based on critical attributes and skills needed in teams that stand against wildlife crime, based on which the rangers have been assigned to appropriate roles within several anti-poaching forces.
Of the 39 elite rangers who completed the course, five will be posted to Banhine National Park which sits within the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area. Anti-poaching support to Banhine, which started in 2017, addresses both illegal logging and charcoaling as well and wildlife poaching to prepare the Park for potential future wildlife relocations.
Limpopo National Park will employ 29 of the new rangers. The region which includes Limpopo National Park continues to struggle under the strain of poaching of key species such as elephant and lion and has seen an increase in wildlife poisoning and snare traps – both methods which leave a myriad of species, including large numbers of vultures and critical small carnivores, devastated in the process. The strengthened ranger forces will focus on securing the so-called Intensive Protection Zone which borders Kruger National Park on its western perimeter, protecting the areas of the park with the highest game densities and tourism development potential. They will operate from a new mobile field operations base supported by a helicopter that will greatly increase ranger mobility.
The remaining five rangers have been assigned to offer support to the Carnivore Protection Programme within Limpopo National Park. Their specialised duties will include patrolling and monitoring known carnivore range areas in an effort to gain a better understanding of the movement and habits of carnivores in the park, reduce the potential for human-wildlife conflict, and eliminate any poaching threats.
This latest batch of recruits is the result of a project embarked upon by Mozambique’s National Administration of Conservation Areas (ANAC) in partnership with and funded by Peace Parks Foundation, to improve ranger capacity in the Mozambique components of the Great Limpopo and Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Areas. The project will increase the number of feet on the ground, as well as improve their skillset, whilst putting in place suitable infrastructure and support resources and developing standardised operations and protocols. These include establishing central command and control structures which are integrated into digital radio networks in all relevant parks. Mobility for deployment and recovery of patrols and support logistics will also be improved through the provision of solar bicycles, motorbikes, vehicles and Samil trucks.
In addition to the graduating class of 2018, the Peace Parks funded project has trained and deployed 26 new rangers to Zinave National Park as well as 5 rangers to Banhine National Park in 2017, and will also see 30 rangers added to the Maputo Special Reserve forces in the near future.