The men and women who defend the country’s wildlife, sometimes paying with their very lives, have been honoured as South Africa observes World Ranger Day.
Environmental Affairs Deputy Minister Barbara Thomson on Tuesday led country celebrations at Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape.
Thomson delivered the commemorative message, highlighting the dedication and commitment of South Africa’s rangers as well as the importance of World Ranger Day, which is observed on 31 July each year globally.
It is a day to commemorate the many rangers killed or injured in the line of duty. It is also a day to celebrate the work they do to protect the world’s natural and cultural treasures.
This year, SANParks showcased the work done by marine rangers in the national parks at the Darlington Dam section of Addo Elephant National Park. The display showed how marine and terrestrial rangers work together to protect natural heritage.
South Africa is battling threats to its wildlife on many fronts and elephants and rhinos are not the only animals at risk of being poached. Species such as abalone are illegally harvested and sea turtles are snared, while illegal fishing and dumping of waste into the oceans is rife.
Sharks are caught for their fins, while whales and other ocean species are dying because of overfishing and the amount of plastic and other waste dumped into the oceans.
“As a result, much of the ranger corps duties are being focused on anti-poaching operations. SANParks rangers undergo extensive training, supported by canine units, small air wing aircraft, as well as sophisticated technology as part of its anti-poaching operations.
“Our rangers are facing daily hardships in their efforts to protect many of our species, such as the elephant, rhino, cycad, pangolin and abalone from poachers.
Our country’s natural heritage, derived from our enormous biodiversity, is a key income generator for tourism and thus an important contributor to our economy through job creation and tourism,” Thomson said.
Supporting rangers and volunteers
She thanked SANParks for its significant role in providing the rangers with the necessary support in terms of specialised training and equipment to enable them to respond effectively to incidents.
Thomson said if it were not for these excellent individuals who risk their lives to protect the species, many species would face extinction.
She expressed sadness and condemned the killing of rangers, particularly in the Kruger National Park (KNP), which is mostly the target of poaching activities.
“I would like to pay a special tribute to our departed rangers for dedicating their lives while protecting our wildlife,” she said.
In the past weekend, Respect Mathebula, a field ranger based in KNP, was shot and killed while on a counter-poaching operation.
As part of World Ranger Day activities, 27 elephants were moved from the main Addo game viewing area to roam in the Darlington section of the park.
By expanding the range of the elephants, the pressure on the environment and on the herds roaming in the Addo region will be alleviated.
It is thanks to the sponsorship by the Network for Animals that this first group of elephants – comprising three family groups – is being relocated to the recently-fenced area.
Thomson thanked SANParks Honorary Rangers for offering their time to contribute to conservation and the elimination of wildlife crimes.
“These volunteers do not get paid for the work they do assisting rangers out in the field. They volunteer their free time and resources out of their sheer love of conservation. Let us follow their example by committing ourselves to working together to protect our wonderful world,” Thosmon said.