Poaching could see the end of the Kruger National Park

The scourge of poaching in the Kruger National Park could be the end of it, says regional ranger Richard Sowry. Picture: Timothy Bernard Independent Newspapers.

The scourge of poaching in the Kruger National Park could be the end of it, says regional ranger Richard Sowry. Picture: Timothy Bernard Independent Newspapers.

Published Mar 24, 2024


Poaching in the world-renowned Kruger National Park could spell the end of its existence if it is not curbed, says Richard Sowry, a regional ranger at the KNP’s Pafuri camp.

Sowry was speaking to The Star during a media excursion in the park last week, said this could have devastating economic, social and ecological implications.

“Humans seem to think that there would not be adverse problems from it … We all see the problems because we are all connected ecologically.

A view of the Tsendze River at Mopani rest camp in the Kruger National Park. Two elephant bulls splash in the water and play rough creating a spectacle for visitors and on-lookers. Picture: Timothy Bernard / Independent Newspapers.

“The system is very connected to us as humans; it affects water and clean air ... the amount of people the KNP directly employs will be affected. Even those that live outside the park work here and they go buy their food and clothes at shopping centres out there, but without the park, those shopping centres would have to close down,” he said.

Sowry added that poachers used all forms of methods including poisoning, which could be the worst kind because of the ripple effect it causes.

The Star recently reported that more than 80 vultures were poisoned after feeding on a dead buffalo that was laced with poison by poachers after trapping it with snares.

The Limpopo river close to Pafuri camp on the northern side of the Kruger National Park. Picture: Timothy Bernard / Independent Newspapers.

Sowry added that poaching was unsustainable and caused accumulative damage to the economy. He said this was true for both subsistence and commercial poaching. “Some of the poachers are forced into the criminal industry because they need to sustain their lives. and some, especially rhino poaching, are commercial because they would have been sent by someone to come into the park for that rhino horn,” Sowry added.

The park has spent more than R250 million to deter poaching for the 2023 financial year alone. Some of the efforts to deter poaching in the park include the introduction of free-running hounds.

Dogs were introduced almost eight years ago to, arguably, South Africa’s number one national park to curb mostly the poaching of rhinos for their horns.

During a SA National Parks tour in Mathekenyane, near Skukuza, last year, journalists witnessed the dogs in action when the park management simulated poachers getting arrested after being tracked by about six to eight free-running dogs.

The dogs were set off about half a kilometre from the hideout of rangers who pretended to be poachers. Running at rapid speeds, the hounds tracked the scent to exactly where the rangers were within minutes, while two helicopters hovered to catch them off guard.

Following 29 years of service to the Kruger National Park Joe Nkuna or Kokwane Ranger (Uncle Ranger) as he is affectionately known in the villages, goes on retirement at the end of March 2024. He speaks of many good days on the job but winning a Kudu award in 2014 stood out. His worse day is when a poison poacher laced a dead buffalo with 2Step poison resulting in the deaths of 86 vultures who ate from that meat. This happened just a few weeks before his retirement. Behind him is ashes of where the carcasses where incinerated Picture: Timothy Bernard / Independent Newspapers.

Rhino are the most poached animals in the Kruger, resulting in their numbers dwindling rapidly. A total of 451 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2021, 327 within government reserves and 124 on private property. Although there was a 24% decrease in rhino poaching compared with the pre-Covid-19 period in 2019, there has been an increase in poaching on private properties.

In 2021, 209 rhinos were poached for their horns in South Africa’s national parks, whereas in 2020, 247 were poached.

Besides poisoning and shooting of the rhinos, another rife form of poaching is snaring. In October last year, field and honorary rangers claim to have removed more than 3 000 snares that were placed across the park to trap the animals.

According to the statistics, this ruthless form of poaching has been on the increase in recent years, claiming more than 7  000 snares in last year, as opposed to 4  000 in 2021.

The Star

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