Written by: John Turner for SANParks Honorary Rangers
SANParks Honorary Rangers have donated two Extreme Terrain Vehicles (ETVs), and additional field equipment valued at over R2 million, to SANParks to increase the clout of anti-rhino poaching units in the Kruger National Park.
The John Deere Gator ETVs will be used by the Environmental Crime Investigations Unit to rapidly access crime scenes where rhinos have been poached, and to access difficult terrain in their hunt for poachers.
The cost of the Gator ETVs was about R700,000, while equipment valued at R1.6 million and consisting of tents, rifle slings, sleeping bags, camping equipment, rifle cleaning kits, backpacks and various other essential items were handed over for use by the rangers for clandestine anti-poaching operations.
John Turner, Chairperson of the Conservation Services Unit of SANParks Honorary Rangers, who facilitated the supply of the equipment, said the war on poachers was “basically a para-military operation these days” and, without the equipment, the anti-poaching units could not operate.
Turner thanked Lasher Tools, who in the last three years have donated R2m towards the effort to fight poachers. He said without Lasher’s “exceptional generosity” this supply of essential equipment would not have been possible. He also thanked Rhino Tears wines who have contributed R830,000 to the cause.
Turner said the Gator ETVs would be used to access crime scenes quickly, and enable the swift completion of post-mortems on poached rhino carcasses, as well as patrolling by section rangers and the K9 dog unit to access difficult terrain very quickly to track down poachers.
Section Ranger Marius Renke said the rangers were very thankful for the addition of the John Deere Gator to their ‘toolbox’.
“It is especially handy when spoor has been picked up in a detection zone. Usually 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 that has been following the spoor initially is then picked up from the management block, sometimes far away from roads, using the Gator, and moved forward. The team, therefore, does not have to walk through blocks, which saves a lot of time and energy. It also helps us to gain ground on the poachers according to the ‘leapfrog’ principle,” said Renke.
“In summer, the tracking dogs get tired and over-heated quickly, but using the Gator, the dogs can be picked up from wherever they are in the middle of the bush and moved to where the freshest spoor is. While on the Gator, the dogs rest and can also be rehydrated. One again, valuable ground is also gained on suspects,” said Renke.
SANParks Honorary Rangers Chairperson Louis Lemmer said: “In the war against poachers, rangers have to endure extreme hardships – being away from their families and facing constant dangers from poachers. So, if we as SANParks Honorary Rangers can make a difference, by making their work easier, we are adding to their effectiveness in the bush. These vehicles will shorten response times and help the rangers reach hot-spots that can otherwise only be reached on foot.”
Lemmer said this was again an example of how funds raised by the SANParks Honorary Rangers volunteers are spent effectively and where most needed.
“We are always grateful to our sponsors and hope the application of funds, as in this case, will inspire others to support the efforts of SANParks Honorary Rangers,” Lemmer said.