Rhino Conservation Awards: Conservation Practitioners
The shortlisted finalists in the Conservation Practitioners category of the Africa’s 2020 Rhino Conservation Awards are:
- Eastern Cape DEDEAT Green Scorpions – Working as Environmental Management Inspectors in Eastern Cape, South Africa for the Department Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism.
- Marula South (IPZ) Rangers – Working as a ranger team in the Kruger National Park, South Africa in the Marula South Region/Intensive Protection Zone for SANParks.
- SANParks KNP Airwing – Working as pilots in the Kruger National Park, South Africa for SANParks
The South African National Parks (SANParks) Air Services is instrumental in numerous of the counter-poaching successes in Kruger National Park. This dedicated team of committed professionals work tirelessly to support rangers, veterinarians and researchers in protecting, saving, preserving and monitoring wildlife and the endangered species within the National Parks and neighbouring protected areas. They are also involved in human and wildlife rescue operations.
The Air Services operates both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft during the day and night often in extremely hazardous, dangerous and risky conditions. The aircraft and the pilots of SANParks Air Services have come under fire during counter-poaching operations often placing their lives at risk to protect the rangers and wildlife on the ground.
The Air Services is widely recognized as the leader in aerial conservation, law enforcement and general wildlife management. It has assisted and been instrumental in numerous arrests, high level law enforcement operations and numerous medical evacuations and emergency reaction flights in support of rangers and other personnel on the frontline.
The Air Services frequently assists with the location, immobilization and relocation of orphaned calves, injured animals, wounded or problem animals. Air Services in SANParks has contributed significantly to the reduction in wildlife crime more especially rhino poaching in Kruger National Park.
The Marula South Section Rangers are stationed in the Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ) in the Kruger National Park and are responsible for the area integrity of their respective sections. This area is approximately 420 000ha in size with over 310km of park boundaries which includes an international boundary with Mozambique.
These rangers oversee the conservation and protection of the majority of Kruger National Parks’ rhino. They plan, coordinate and execute all counter poaching operations in this region. Their work goes beyond just counter poaching and they also participate in undertaking rhino monitoring, capture and translocation of rhino and treatment of injured rhino. They also carry out all other conservation management activities in the region related to all other species and habitats.
Through tenacity, courage and strong leadership these Section Rangers managed to stem the tide of rhino poaching in the worst hit region of the park by showing a significant year on year reduction in rhino poaching incidents.
This team is, without exception, a group of phenomenal team players and their exceptional efforts have without doubt played a major role in the fact that rhinos still roam in abundant numbers in the Marula South Region of the Kruger National Park.
Eastern Cape Green Scorpions
This Unit is made up of 28 members who investigate environmental crimes in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, the second largest province in the country.
Although their work includes other aspects of environmental crime, ‘Green’ environmental crime cases focus mainly on illegal hunting, whether by dogs or by organized crime syndicates, and on smuggling of plants, especially cycads and succulents.
Within this dynamite team, a Special Investigations Unit was developed, which focuses entirely on endangered species crimes. Many successful prosecutions, which include rhino poaching cases, can largely be attributed to their work.
The Unit works closely with one of the highest legal authorities in the country and trains the police service on environmental crime investigations in the region. They work closely with, and train other government agencies as well. The Unit also investigates illegal developments and attempts to develop in areas with rich biodiversity.
The Unit has had some of the most publicised environmental successes in the past decade. Their investigations led to the arrest of infamous rhino poaching gangs in the Province, with successful direct imprisonments of up to 25 years. Cycad crimes have also reduced in the Province. Their efforts saw the jailing of a main cycad syndicate leader in 2019 for 18 years and other cycad smugglers receiving prison sentences too. These arrests have led to this environmental crime almost being completely stopped in the Province.
The Unit is, however, challenged by a limited budget, which makes it difficult to fund some of their work. Co-operative governance has been a major means to their success, and they continue to build on relations with enforcement agencies, government institutions and NGOs. While it is highly respected and regarded as one of the best environmental law enforcement units in the country, the Unit is humble about its achievements and always tries to improve itself for the conservation of the beautiful Eastern Cape.