Poaching an increasing threat to KNP elephants
Challenges in the war against elephant poaching vary but a pro-active approach can conserve our elephants.
51 mins ago
SKUKUZA – While the war against rhino poaching is raging on in the south of the Kruger National Park (KNP), rangers in the north are leaving no stone unturned in the fight against the increasing slaughtering of elephants.
Their battle may prove to be even tougher than that of their colleagues in the south, since they have to safeguard elephants in an area of which 43 kilometres along the Mozambican border, has no fence.
This week various journalists visited the iconic park during which elephant poaching, which reared its ugly head in 2014 after there had been no incidents for several years, was highlighted.
Since June 2015, 17 elephants have been poached in the far northern sections of the Kruger.
Nine carcasses were found in 2016 in the Greater Limpopo Transfortier Park (GLTP).
One of the people who addressed the media was Vlakteplaas regional field ranger, Mr Marius Snyders.
When the first elephants in this region died the rangers at first thought it was from natural causes.
Unbeknown to them this was the beginning of elephant poaching on a scale that has not been experienced since the 1980s.
In the Pafuri region five were poached while Shingwedzi lost four.
On September 28 last year rangers found the first elephant that had been poisoned. Its contaminated carcass led to the death of 46 vultures and four lions.
Fortunately, the seller of the pesticide used for the poisoning has been apprehended and since then, no further incidents occurred.
Snyders said the majority of poachers enter the park using the GTLP corridor. In accordance with bilateral agreements between South Africa and Mozambique, there is no fence along the corridor. This, many anti-poaching activists believe, is adding to the increasing levels of poaching.
However, Snyders mentioned that the fence is in any case dropped by elephants breaking through from both sides, leaving the border unprotected. Poachers also easily scale the 1,8-metre fence. “No fence will keep a determined poacher out,” reiterated Mr Billy Swanepoel, technical adviser of the wildlife programme of the GLTP. He was accompanied by Mr Albert Machaba, head ranger of Kruger’s far north section.
Although improved relationships on ground level and joint meetings between rangers of the Kruger and Mozambique are adding to successes in the elephant-poaching war, it was evident that other challenges still hamper cooperation between the two parties.
The greatest problem is the fact that cross-border operations by the Kruger rangers into Mozambique and vice versa are illegal. South African rangers may only move around unarmed on Mozambican soil while their rangers are not allowed on our soil with their AK-47s. All operations thus stop at the border.
“Another challenge is that during deliberations on higher level, stakeholders like the defence force and police are not efficiently pulled in to strategise a solution on ground level. We need governments to see the bigger picture and include them,” Swanepoel added.
What is more, the radio systems of rangers on the South African side are not compatible with that of the Mozambicans. This makes any radio communication impossible. Rangers either have to meet at the fence or rely on landlines and a single satellite phone. He did not want to elaborate on what the solution to this might be.
One of the problems on the South African side is that there is only one dog and handler who can follow tracks.
Snyders explained that at present there are four active groups of poachers using heavy-calibre weapons like AK-47s which they use to shoot at the elephants from a short distance.
The tusks are removed by chopping them out with axes after the back of the elephant is given a blow with a panga to prevent it from standing up again.
From when they hear shots his team has an hour and a half to find the poachers and the carcass. That is how long it usually takes to hack the tusks out. A rhino horn can be taken off much quicker – in about five to six minutes.
Even with a silencer on a poacher’s gun, field rangers can hear shots from as little as four kilometres away. Elephants need to be shot in their soft organs or groin to bring them to their feet. Twenty to 30 bullets in other places will not bring them down quickly enough for the poachers to still hack out the tusks in time.
Not all incursions by poachers are successful, especially when the shooter is inexperienced in handling a gun. Snyders said poachers move at about six kilometres per hour while a tracking team can only follow-up at three kilometres per hour. “If we can get into a position where we can react proactively, we will have more successes,” he explained.
Snyders, who used to be a parabat in the South African National Defence Force, believes that war against elephant poaching in the north, can be won if the same methods can be applied as in the rhino-poaching war in the south. In spite of incursions increasing in the south, there has been a decrease in number of rhinos poached.
He emphasised that they need to be proactive rather than reactive and said such strategies include clandestine patrols, a helicopter that will soon be stationed in Phalaborwa and employing the K9 unit on a more extensive basis.
“We never get used to standing next to a carcass. It saddens you every time, but also makes you more determined to give your best as a ranger to protect this amazing heritage and the remarkable animals,” said Snyders.http://lowvelder.co.za/339242/poaching- ... elephants/