Some game rangers are seen at the Kruger National Park. Photo: Dale Hes/AENS

Bushbuckridge - The murder of a Kruger National Park (KNP) game ranger - the first in over 50 years - by alleged rhino poachers shows the severity of the threat rangers face on a daily basis, says Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa.

Molewa was joined by South African National Parks (SANParks) CEO Fundisile Mketeni and other SANParks top officials and the local community in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga on Saturday, to pay homage to field ranger Respect Mathebula, who was killed in a shoot-out with poachers on July 19.

Molewa said the working environment of field rangers in South Africa had changed since rhino poaching started to increase 10 years ago.

“The work of a field ranger became more diverse and complex as these men and women woke each day to continue to lead the way for all of us in conserving our country’s natural wonders,” she said ahead of World Ranger Day on July 31. 

Mathebula was the first ranger to be killed by poachers in the Kruger National Park in more than 50 years. 

“The murder of one of our rangers is an act of aggression by unscrupulous individuals and gangs. His death at the hands of alleged rhino poachers is an indication of the severity of the threat our rangers are faced with on a daily basis,” Molewa said.

Mathebula's death highlighted the varied nature of a ranger’s work, from a peaceful environment on one day to confrontation the next. She appealed to community members to honour Mathebula by working with SANParks and government to preserve South Africa’s natural heritage.

“You can become directly involved in combating wildlife crime, as Respect did, or you can assist in educating our children, or other members of your community about not only the importance of wildlife in strengthening our country’s economy but also in conserving our biodiversity,” Molewa said.

African News Agency/ANA