Over 3,000 rhinos have been poached since 2008, of which approximately 65% were killed in the Kruger National Park (KNP). The vast majority of the world’s remaining rhino are found in the park.

There is a 350km porous border between the park and Mozambique, and there are between 10 and 15 armed incursions in the KNP at any one time, with by far the majority entering from Mozambique. These incursions are by persons entering South Africa illegally while carrying an array of weapons with the sole purpose of destroying South Africa’s rhino for their horn.

The current price of rhino horn is approximately $90, 000 per kilogram, with an average horn weighing in at 4 kilograms. This makes rhino horn more valuable than platinum and gold combined per kilogram. It is currently one of the most valuable commodities on Earth.

Most of the poachers get away with their bounty – Less than 10% are captured.

In 2013, apart from the more than 50 fire fights in the KNP where 47 poacher fatalities occurred, another 108 sightings were recorded, of which only 10% were apprehended and arrested. Of theses arrests, a large percentage walk out on bail of a few hundred Rand and many are never seen again.

The current Rules of Engagement in the KNP are the standard South African Police Services (SAPS) rule of ‘minimal force’. Translated, this means the rangers on the ground must be at close quarters to the poachers in order to apprehend them without weapons being discharged. KNP rangers may only resort to fire power if the enemy fires upon them first.

No doubt, the poachers know this and therefore do not fire first, thus eluding capture at an alarming rate.

Rangers can spend up to a week in the bush in attempting to track and arrest poachers. It is difficult to keep the morale of the rangers high given the current restrictive rules of engagement.

At the recent Rhino Conservation Awards, I heard regional ranger Oom Louis Olivier describe the life of a ranger saying, “Game Rangers operate in the bush under harsh physical and sometimes severe climate conditions, often with inadequate equipment, logistics and support. They are often exposed to deeply disturbing scenes of which a dead or wounded colleague is obviously the worst, while the sight of each poached carcass of an animal they are supposed to protect, is a frustrating and dreadful reminder of failure.”

Clearly, the rules of engagement disempower and endanger the rangers and they need to be reconsidered and amended.

It is irrational and unreasonable to expect rangers to fulfill their duties lawfully and constitutionally when they are required to deal with armed incursions which threaten the sovereignty of our country, according to rules that apply to common criminals, and not to those who are daily making off with the family silver of the nation, prejudicing its bio-diversity and undermining its tourism industry, which is largely built on the opportunity to see the Big Five – not the Big Two if rhino, elephant and lion are all poached out.

In my opinion, South Africa needs to implement a policy that enables our rangers to resort to whatever methods are deemed necessary to apprehend poachers in the Kruger National Park. Anything less than this is a failure to act in a way that is consistent with the constitution and is accordingly invalid.

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