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Information provided by: SANParks Honorary Rangers

The Kruger National Park (KNP) has had a long association with horses. Merchants and explorers used horses to travel through the area but made sure to only do this during times when the Tsetse flies, which carried the deadly sleeping sickness, were less active. The Steinackers Horse Brigade was deployed to patrol the area during the Anglo Boer War. In the early days rangers were dependent on horses as their primary means of transport to fulfill their daily duties. A good horse was invaluable, especially if it had immunity against horse sickness.

Horse deployed for anti-poaching patrols, Kruger ©SANParks Honorary Rangers

History has recorded the legendary escapade of Game Warden Harry Wolhuter who was attacked by a lion while on horseback in the Lindanda area of the KNP. Wolhuter escaped miraculously by killing the lion with his sheath knife.

It has been decades since the last horses were used in the Kruger National Park, as they have been replaced by motorised vehicles.

2016 marks the return of horses to active duty in Kruger National Park. Horses are now again being deployed for anti-poaching patrols in Kruger. A pilot project has been being launched to test the viability and effectiveness of mounted patrols.

Karien Keet, SANParks section ranger for Phalaborwa, is in charge of the pilot programme. Karien is the ideal person to manage the experiment as she has a long association with horses and is an experienced rider. She is a firm believer that it will not only be an effective tool in the fight against poaching, but that it will benefit conservation management too.

The Phalaborwa section of the KNP needs to be patrolled by field rangers on a daily basis. Horses are fast-moving and glide through the bush quietly, much quieter than the noise made by vehicles, which is a dead give-away to poachers. Horses can become an anti-poaching force to be reckoned with.

Horse deployed for anti-poaching patrols, Kruger ©SANParks Honorary Rangers

The Bushveld and Highveld regions of the SANParks Honorary Rangers stepped in to provide funding for the project. Karien’s husband, Dr. Dewald Keet, a veterinary surgeon, will ensure that the horses get the best medical attention, including regular check-ups and compulsory inoculations.

Honorary Rangers and Arabian stud breeders Gerhard, Lizet and GD Kotze made two of their endurance horses available for use during the trial period. The horses were carefully selected for temperament and also spent some time as trails horses on a 4000 ha game farm where they were introduced to wildlife. The horses were delivered to Phalaborwa on November 12 by the Kotzes and are being stabled outside the park.

Karien tested the feelings of the SANParks field rangers and only the young and brave showed interest with none of them having had previous experience with horses. But when they were introduced to Garribaldi and Sabot, and after their first lessons in the saddle, they changed their minds. Karien is battling to keep their enthusiasm under control as the rangers cannot wait to go on patrol with the horses.

The Kruger rhino and elephant population is under threat from criminals who run sophisticated poaching networks. The efforts of the Kruger rangers are starting to make a significant impact in preventing poachers from doing their terrible deeds. However, they need all the support they can get. Perhaps horses will be the new best friend for both ranger and rhino.

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