Kruger National Park (KNP) rangers are the conservation ears and eyes of the park. It is their duty to protect and maintain the integrity of their areas. On May 22, members of the public were invited to share a glimpse of the rangers' skills, functions and abilities.
Under the guidance of Nxanatseni South regional ranger, Louis Olivier, and Malelane section ranger, Don English, who is also acting as regional ranger in the Marula region, the ranger corps went all out to honour their trade.
The day coincided with the Honorary Rangers' (HR) Indaba, which was held over four days at Berg-en-Dal. A strong crowd weathered the early morning cold to gather at a clearing in the bush close to the road to Berg-en-Dal.
After a warm welcome by 'Oom' Louis, Kruger's managing executive, Dr Bandile Mkhize, in his keynote address, praised the ranger corps for their dedication and commitment. He particularly referred to some recent successes in capturing a number of rhino poachers.
"At the moment the rangers are facing tremendous adversities. Armed poachers continue to pursue the park's rhino population and it has become necessary for our rangers to open fire on these poachers on a number of occasions over the last year or two," he continued. He highlighted the recent successful capture of notorious poachers in the Vlakteplaas and Tshokwane sections.
"There have also been a number of cross-border operations and many of the poachers were arrested by Mozambican law enforcement officers." He said 80 percent of the poachers involved in incidents in Kruger are currently behind bars or awaiting trial.
However, "we still believe that one animal poached is an animal too many and we shall continue to strive for a zero percent poaching incident record, but we must be realistic. The KNP does not exist in a bubble and the economic situation of the people living on our boundaries in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique also plays its part to increase the willingness of poachers to hunt in the park."
He concluded with a moving tribute to "our own living legend, Oom Louis Olivier." Louis was due to retire at the end of the year, but was been given a 'stay' when Sanparks extended its retirement date to the age of 65. Mkhize encouraged the younger generation rangers to tap into Oom Louis' vast array of skills, knowledge, attitude and work ethic.
The day's programme proceeded with Tshowkane's section ranger, Steven Whitfield, giving a competent display of the Bantam Ultra Light Aeroplane that was donated to the ranger corps by the West Rand region of the HRs some two years ago.
This included a joint demonstration with the SANParks Eurocopter AS350 B3 Squirrel helicopter in a simulated skirmish with poachers and a casualty evacuation exercise.
This was followed by rangers from the Nxanatseni North region's presentation of rangers' marksmanship and a fire and movement mock assault on a fictitious group of poachers, ably illustrated by the Kingfisherpruit rangers.
The day was brought to a close with a drilling display by the ranger drill squad. The KNP has 22 ranger sections, each with a section ranger and an average of 10 field rangers.
These sections are divided into four regions- Nxanatseni North, Nxanatseni South, Nkayeni and Marula - each with its own regional section ranger.