A day that will resonate was marked on Tuesday - World Ranger Day. This day, marked annually on July 31, is about showing respect for the work done by field rangers in combating poaching and protecting natural heritage.
This year, SANParks celebrated Ranger Day at the Addo Elephant National Park, in an event that took on special significance as it honoured field ranger Respect Mathebula, who was shot dead by poachers in the Kruger National Park on July 19. He and other rangers were on an anti-poaching patrol when they were attacked by a gang of rhino poachers armed with rifles.
Mathebula, 33, was the first ranger to be killed by poachers in the Kruger National Park in more than 50 years. His supreme sacrifice symbolises the price that the men and women in khaki are prepared to pay to protect our wildlife.
On World Ranger Day, SANParks managing executive for parks Property Mokwena paid tribute to Mathebula and expressed gratitude for the work done by 900 field rangers in the 21 national parks.
Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs Barbara Thomson said: “We celebrate and pay homage to these guardians of our environment, brave men and women who put their lives at risk to protect our endangered species.”
A little known fact is that 200 rangers have been killed in the the line of duty in the past six years, according to the International Ranger Federation. Since 2012, as many as 176 rangers were shot and killed by militia groups, unknown assailants or armed poachers working for multinational wildlife crime syndicates.
Mathebula’s death - plus those of his fellow colleagues over the years - underscore the severity of the threat our rangers are faced with daily. In our private and state-owned game parks, rangers run a gauntlet of poachers, armed to the teeth with automatic weapons.
A total of 1 028 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa last year, a slight decline from the 1 054 animals killed in 2016. The 2017 figure shows that nearly three rhinos were killed by poachers every day last year.
In just a decade, around 7 245 African rhinos have been lost to poaching in South Africa. If it were not for people such as Mathebula, it could have been worse. We salute them.