Mariana Balt, The Lowvelder
They aim to prevent poaching by prohibiting suspects from entering the park as well as follow up on incidents as efficiently as possible.
When four out of six elephant carcasses discovered north of the Olifants River in the Kruger National Park (KNP) during the first month of the year were poached, alarm bells start to ring.
In response, Project Ivory was launched in the park last week. The project, comprising equipment and manpower to support ranger services in the northern sections, would enhance speedy response to crime scenes, better tracking of suspects and forensic excellence. It basically duplicates the Mission Area Joint Operations Command (MAJOC) centre established at Skukuza some years ago.
At the launching ceremony at Phalaborwa Gate, Maj Gen (Ret) Johan Jooste, who heads SANParks’ anti-poaching activities, said they aim to prevent poaching by prohibiting suspects from entering the park as well as follow up on incidents as efficiently as possible. W
To this effect a new mounted unit has been established at Phalaborwa, with previous endurance champion horses and skilled riders forming part of the unit. Sophisticated equipment is continuously sourced and donated by the Honorary Rangers Corps, in a valuable partnership with SANParks. An all-terrain vehicle has already been donated to the units at Phalaborwa.
Better partnerships have also been formed with communities bordering the KNP. Environmental monitors (EM) are being appointed, who patrol the western border on foot, and now also on bicycle. A number of bicycles were handed over to EMs at Punda Maria during the launch of Project Ivory. They are tasked to look for signs of incursions.
During a panel discussion on elephant poaching, KNP head ranger, Nicolas Funda said the elephant population in KNP increases by about four per cent a year, and is not on the decline due to poaching. “We can however not allow poachers to control this increase by harvesting them. That is poaching, stealing in fact.
“Elephants are easy to see. If poaching gets out of hand it will be very difficult to curb, therefore we prefer to be pro-active.”
Current figures support his fears: In 2014 the park lost only two elephants to poaching, but 24 in 2015, 46 in 2016 and 67 in 2017.
To support Project Ivory, the Honorary Rangers sponsor the newly established horse unit, which comprises seven horses. Derick Mashale, the regional ranger of the section, says the horses can travel further and faster than humans and give a higher vantage point to spot suspect behaviour. They would also be able to get closer to game without the animal reacting and cover long distances in a shorter space of time.
A Cessna airplane from Skukuza will also now be stationed at Phalaborwa. Pilot, Jaco Mol says having the aircraft at Phalaborwa cuts their response time in half.
Help and support also came from an unexpected source when internationally renowned cricketer, Kevin Pietersen joined hands with colleague Mark Boucher. Through his intervention he has raised R3 million towards the Forward Looking Infrared System to help with anti-poaching initiatives.