A tribute to the unsung heroes of wildlife conservation in…

Rangers face life-threatening situations on a daily basis in their work. There are recorded deaths due to conflicts with poachers. Or working alongside dangerous animals and in hazardous conditions, which contributes to fatalities. Rangers are also under psychological pressure which can have mental health implications.

As part of World Ranger Day celebrations, Kruger National Park (KNP) management and staff held a ceremony to honor the Ranger Corps on Friday 29th July. The ceremony took place outside the Skukuza Paul Kruger Gate and activities included a ranger drill, honor guard, wreath laying ceremony and plaque unveiling for the ranger and master- dog Shando Mathebula, who was killed earlier this year.

Shando Mathebula was killed by a buffalo while on patrol earlier this year. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)
Kruger National Park Chief Executive Gareth Coleman (left) stands next to the distraught widow of Shando Mathebula who was killed in a bison attack earlier this year. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)

Shando Mathebula

Mathebula was based in the Shangoni section on the Limpopo province side of the park and was tragically killed in a confrontation with a buffalo while patrolling with a colleague on May 4, 2022. The 36-year-old worked in the park for the past. 10 years, and was described as a dedicated man to his profession, who served with discipline and distinction.

Mathebula’s widow, Nkateko Makamo, attended the ceremony with some members of her family. Makamo sat watching the ceremony in a gloomy mood and then said, “When I see these people (rangers) wearing this uniform, my heart becomes painful. It reminds me of my husband. I do not agree. I miss my husband.

Mathebula’s sister took to the podium and said her family appreciates all that SANParks has done since Mathebula’s passing, but the family still has questions regarding her death.

A ranger after removing a trap in Dinokeng Game Reserve, Hammanskraal. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)
Rangers in Dinokeng Game Reserve, Hammanskraal. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)
Rangers in Dinokeng Game Reserve, Hammanskraal. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)
Rangers on horseback in Dinokeng Game Reserve, Hammanskraal. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)

Scourge of environmental crime

Regional ranger Tinyiko Golele, who spoke on behalf of the rangers, said the scourge of environmental crime over the past decade has become “the most serious threat to biodiversity” and that rangers have always been at the forefront of the fight against these wildlife crimes.

She pointed to a cancerous threat of corruption that has made its way into ranger corps around the world as being similar to what has happened in many governments and institutions.

Said Golele: “It is no secret that many of us have fallen into the trap of colluding with trade unions, leading to many internal arrests of our staff. Criminal syndicates have made inroads by luring and recruiting even those who have proven themselves. They sprinkle money in the faces of those who are vulnerable in a tantalizing way. And it ends up breaking the backs of not only the weak but even the strong within the core rangers and other sister departments.

“Those who turn out to be real ranger cadres are targeted by these criminals to eliminate them. The wave of assassination tactics aimed at silencing real ranger cadres is growing rapidly and sending shockwaves of fear to the families and friends of individual rangers, who are committed to protecting the wildlife of our property. -loved South Africa and the South African landscape. .”

A SANDF member at the wreath laying ceremony. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)
A SANDF member at the wreath laying ceremony. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)
Rangers march past the Paul Kruger Gate, Skukuza, during the Kruger National Park World Ranger Day Ceremony honoring the Ranger Corps. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)
A ranger at the Kruger National Park World Ranger Day ceremony honoring the ranger corps. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)

Senseless killings of rangers

Golele called on governments, law enforcement, politicians, NGOs and community leaders around the world to join the fight and condemn this barbaric and senseless killing of rangers. “We cannot sit back and watch our God-given natural heritage being stolen from us by these greedy criminals,” she said.

The International Ranger Federation has reported 23 animal deaths, 19 duty deaths, 50 homicide deaths, 35 workplace deaths and 23 vehicle accident deaths by rangers worldwide for the period of June 2021 to May 2022.

The last murderDays before World Ranger Day, Chief Ranger of Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, Anton Mzimba, sent shockwaves around the world.

Mzimba had received dead and according to Mpumalanga police spokesman, Brigadier Selvy Mohlala, Mzimba and his wife were shot on July 26 around 7 p.m. at their home near Bushbuckridge by three men who requested assistance with their vehicle. Mzimba was reportedly shot several times and his wife was shot in the stomach. Mzimba succumbed to his injuries, while his wife is in hospital fighting for her life (at press time). The suspects fled without taking anything from the house. A manhunt is launched.

Minister of Forests, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, said in a press release: “Anton has dedicated his life to conservation and to fostering healthy relationships between conservation authorities and communities living in the periphery of protected areas.

Anton Mzimba was murdered days before World Ranger Day. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)

Salute to courage

“I take this opportunity to salute his personal courage and the commitment with which he assumed his responsibilities. I will also send my sincere condolences to his wife and young family who have been deprived of their father and breadwinner because of this heinous crime.

Mzimba, who had over two decades of experience as a field ranger, was a key member of the Greater Kruger Environmental Protection Forum and winner of the 2016 Field Ranger of the Year award at the annual Rhino Awards. . His murder highlights the daily dangers rangers face to protect wildlife.

“The Rangers not only deserve our admiration and appreciation, but also our undivided support as they continue to protect our natural heritage assets,” concluded Kruger National Park Chief Executive Gareth Coleman. “We take this opportunity to express our gratitude to all the spouses and families of our rangers for the sacrifice they all make on a daily basis, knowing that the lives of their partners could be lost due to the threats that come with the responsibility to fight against wildlife crime. OBP/DM

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