Protecting Rhinos During the Pandemic
[Extract from Save the Rhino International article, first published January 2021]
Protecting rhinos during the pandemic has been hard.
Before COVID-19 hit last year, rangers at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP) in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, had already been working longer shifts, due to a period of intense poaching. When strict lockdown rules started, there was no time to rest. The uncertainty of the pandemic meant that their workload increased; team members who were already on leave couldn’t come back to work and the extra eyes and ears of tourists suddenly disappeared.
The poaching threat was even greater than before.
It became essential for teams to complete longer patrols. Rangers walked for hours each day, constantly on the lookout for unusual activity, whilst carrying on their backs everything they needed for weeks in the field.
Thankfully, before the pandemic, donations to Save the Rhino International provided 130 self sufficient camping kits for HiP’s rangers; critical throughout 2020, allowing teams to remain as effective as possible, even when they had to be deployed at short notice. More recently, donations from the COVID-19 Crisis Appeal helped purchase extra personal protection equipment (face masks, gloves, and hand sanitiser) making sure that every ranger, their team, and their wider community could remain protected from the threat of COVID-19.
Mercifully, the initial strict lockdown protocols across South Africa that put an abrupt stop to tourism also seemed to suppress poaching; fewer incidents were recorded during those early weeks, most likely due to the huge reduction in travel. Without critical travel corridors within and outside of the country, it is much harder for criminals to transport a poached horn to consumers in countries like Vietnam or China.
Yet despite the let-up in poaching, rangers had to remain vigilant, patrolling day and night, staffing roadblocks and conducting random vehicle checks, as well as manning observation and listening posts in hotspot areas. This is the core, difficult work of rangers in the ongoing struggle against rhino poaching.
Predictably, as the first movement restrictions lifted in June and July, poaching across HiP intensified. Field rangers were still working long hours, but now with fewer resources and with all the limitations and constraints brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
During times like these, it’s the little things that can really make a difference.
Thanks to incredible donors across the world, Save the Rhino International were able to give rangers at HiP some extra support. Donations provided vital safe storage for food and equipment, essential vehicle maintenance, new tyres for patrol vehicles, and repairing vital infrastructure. Water connections could be fixed, improving boreholes and piping at a number of outposts, making sure that staff could continue to safeguard wildlife in remote locations across the Park.
Now, in 2021, the rangers of HiP are facing new challenges.
A new variant of the novel coronavirus is spreading across South Africa, despite the summer weather, and the country is under an even stricter lockdown, including a curfew; schools, parks and even beaches are closed. However, your support continues to make every day that little bit better for rangers in HiP and across Africa and Asia, so that they can continue doing everything possible to save the iconic animals that we all love.
If you'd like to get involved why not join Save the Rhino as a volunteer, fundraiser or member