The heroes that protect our wildlife

Posted on 9 March 2020

Reports of rhino poachers being apprehended within the Kruger National Park and other SANParks are published regularly, but the rangers behind the arrests are not always acknowledged for the work they do and for putting their lives on the line.

One such example is that of field ranger Respect Mathebula who died in a shootout between rangers and suspected poachers at the Crocodile Bridge section of the Kruger National Park on 19 July 2018.

A post by South African adventurer Braam Malherbe on Facebook on Friday 6 March, highlighted another hero who had a brush with death while pursuing poachers last year in February. Steven Whitfield, a regional ranger in the Kruger National Park, survived a crash after the Foxbat aircraft ‘he was flying in pursuit of poachers crashed due to suspected engine failure.’

Steven crashed into a bush rather than on a dirt road and the aircraft slid along the ground for a few hundred meters before one of the wheels came off, ‘resulting in the plane nose-diving and somersaulting with Steven still in the cockpit.’ He was fortunate to survive the crash and make a full recovery.

‘Another helicopter was deployed, the dogs were still on the ground with the rangers and they actually managed to catch the poachers. There is something to be said about the tenacity of the rangers that continued the chase in spite of the accident,’ said Malherbe.

Also read: Behind the scenes in Kruger

It’s the dedication of people like Steven Whitfield, who has since made a full recovery, and other committed rangers that put their lives on the line daily to turn the tide in this horrendous war against rhino poaching.’

Another person who is impressed with the dedication and heroic activities of the rangers, is Mike Wright. Wright dressed in a speedo and bulletproof vest to raise money to support rangers who put their lives on the line to protect rhinos and posted the photo to Instagram. ‘The post came about after I watched a friend of mine dressed in full camouflage, wielding an AK-47 with a red-dot sight, and being weighed down by a bulletproof vest, set out on an evening patrol. It was this sight of a fully militarised game ranger friend that made my head spin, and I realised just how desperately these guys need any help they can get,’ he says on his funding page.

Wright managed to raise over R12,000 for this cause.


‘Rambo’ poses in speedo for rhino conservation

Also read: Addo’s anti-poaching dogs get their own obstacle course

Chief ranger Xolani Nicholas Funda says ‘This is our country’s heritage, and we need to tell a better story to the local communities about the park’s benefits.’ To support SANParks’ anti-poaching efforts, you could donate, spread the word about the good work rangers do, or sign up as an honorary park ranger.


Image credit: Harriet Nimmo

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