Working with rhinos and rhino orphans has meant a lot of my work has been surrounded by anti-poaching rangers. You don’t often see the rangers but you know they are around, you know they are out there patrolling and being a protective force… A line of defence. The work that these rangers do is underestimated by many. They walk for hours on end, they work in difficult, stressful situations under very challenging circumstances, they go for long periods of time without seeing family, they put themselves between poachers and wildlife…
I’ve worked alongside these amazing individuals who give their lives to protect wildlife. I’ve been to poaching scenes, I’ve seen their heartbreak when a rhino loses its life. I’ve seen their commitment, their pride, their passion…
I cannot speak for the anti-poaching rangers but I can share some of my experiences with you. While working at a rhino orphanage, I was invited to go on a snare sweep one afternoon with the anti-poaching unit at the reserve. Before I had worked with wildlife in South Africa I did not realize that snares were still extensively used by bush meat poachers. Unfortunately, they are and anti-poaching rangers are frequently pulling snares out of the bush in an effort to protect wildlife. Getting ready to head out in search of snares, I pulled on my boots and went with the rangers down to one of the dams. Before setting off, the rangers taught me a bit about tracks, signs of poacher activity to look out for and how snares are set… We began patrolling an area close to a dam – snares are often set on game paths in the bush around dams because there is a lot of animal activity (the animals are coming to the water source to drink). We used hand signals to minimize talking on our patrol as there was a chance we would encounter poachers so we needed to work quietly.
After an hour of walking we found the first snare – it was set up and ready to trap any animal that happened to walk the path. Snares are not species specific, they will trap whatever animal has the misfortune of walking through the deadly wire loop. That could mean tightening around the neck of a hyena, the body of an antelope, the leg or trunk of an elephant… The snare will tighten around whatever animal walks that path. We removed the snare as the rangers explained there will be more snares in this area as the person setting the snares will do a group of them in one area so they can increase their chances of catching something and make it easier to check the snares when they come back into the reserve. Interestingly, they also told me how you can differentiate between the poachers by looking at how they tie and set the snares. Each poacher has their own technique and this is something the anti poaching units pick up on as they gather snare after snare.
As we silently continued, the ranger in front of me stopped as he pointed down at another snare. This one had been knocked down so was flat on the ground. We removed it and continued. Another few minutes of walking and I spotted something out of the corner of my eye. As I looked again, I saw the wire across the path. It’s amazing how easily a snare could be missed… The snare was across the path ready to catch unsuspecting wildlife. We removed the snare, putting the wire with the other two we had found. Our snare sweep continued as we moved into another area. We had been patrolling for hours now and with a handful of snares we had collected it had been a successful patrol, but we weren’t finished yet. I followed the team across the difficult terrain, by this point I was completely disorientated but they knew exactly where we were.
As I walked behind team leader Mark, he turned to me with a grin and said, “are your legs tired yet?”. I laughed and said “No, I’m all good.” Which was obviously a lie. He immediately responded with, “Sure Meg, if you’re not tired why aren’t you picking your feet up properly anymore”. He could hear my feet subtly dragging as my legs became tired. Patrolling with these physically fit, highly skilled and well trained protectors was an honour and it gave me just a little glimpse into what they do. As we returned with snares in hand, I proudly showed the team back at the rhino orphanage the success of our patrol. I was thrilled. These rangers are selfless, they are committed, they are truly amazing.
Thank you to the rangers. We see you. We appreciate you.
Council of Contributors latest project is to improve the Sera Rhino Monitor’s team camp, they spend hours every day tracking the rhino on foot and ensuring they are safe and well. The team camp does not have running water and is very basic, we would like to raise $11,000 to build them showers, toilets, a kitchen and a shaded seating area so when they come off of their long, exhausting patrols they can be more comfortable.
Tread lightly on this Earth,