Despite a nationwide lockdown in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, South African anti-poaching rangers remain on patrol, protecting one of the country’s most precious resources at a time when environmentalists fear that a lack of tourists could put rare animals at greater risk of illegal hunting.
Although most South Africans have been ordered to stay at home during the lockdown to contain the spread of the virus, anti-poaching rangers have been identified as key workers. On foot, by jeep and by helicopter, they continue to roam the vast national parks of the country in search of signs of poachers.
“We have not reduced our anti-poaching activities or the management of security and wildlife conservation. We cannot afford to do it, we have also made a commitment to our partners not to do that, “Ian Nowak, the general manager of the Balule Reserve within Greater Kruger Park told AFP.
“And our job is to protect the raw material, which is nature, conservation, and the ecosystem, and that is what we will do and we will continue to do, locked out or not.”
Normally, the park would be full of safari tourists at this time of year, but it is now mostly empty. Environmentalists fear that the threat of poaching has increased as a result, both for illegal traders and unemployed people who, due to the pandemic, may turn to bushmeat hunting to survive.
“Meanwhile, usually with the lodges busy, there are also many more eyes and ears. Not necessarily anti-poaching eyes and ears but it is the eyes and ears that pick things up, the tracks or whatever, “said Rian Ahlers. , caretaker at the Balule Reserve.
“It’s not there at the moment. So we have to be much more proactive than we were in the past.”
Rhinos are a particular concern, their horns reaching high prices on the Asian black market. At least nine rhinos have been reported killed in South Africa since the lockdown started in mid-March.
South Africa is home to around 80% of the world’s rhino population: in 2019, almost 600 of the animals were killed by poachers in the country, although this number has decreased, partly thanks to increased funding for measures anti-poaching.