Game ranger killed in 'friendly fire'
Pietermaritzburg - A game ranger was accidentally shot dead by colleagues whilst they were tracking suspected rhino poachers in Mfolozi Game Reserve at the weekend.
The ranger was identified as Zephania Mbuso Myeni, 39.
He'd been working for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) 18 years.
The organisation said Myeni had been a “very influential front man on combating poaching” in its reserves.
EKZNW said the accident happened after field rangers from the Madlozi camp picked up two human tracks leading in a southerly direction into the wilderness area on Saturday evening.
After reporting to the command structure, four field rangers were despatched, including Myeni, who held the rank of corporal in the anti-poaching unit.
En route to the scene where poachers allegedly fired three shots at about 18:30, the team divided themselves into two groups in order to reach the site as soon as possible and cover a larger area.
The two teams subsequently intercepted one another in the darkness.
Hearing nearby human activity, the leading group took cover waiting to see whether the sounds were poachers or their colleagues.
“Waiting to hear a familiar sound … the staff sergeant heard a gun fire and a bullet flash through the undergrowth,” said EKZNW media spokesperson Maureen Zimu.
The staff sergeant shouted out identifying them as Ezemvelo rangers but the shooting continued and Myeni was hit and subsequently died.
EKZNW CEO Bandile Mkhize said it was heart wrenching that “committed and selfless field rangers” were responsible for mistakenly killing one of their own members.
He said the suspected poachers had escaped.
EKZNW will conduct an internal investigation into the incident and ensure that stricter measures are put in place to prevent an incident like this happening again.
EKZNW’s rhino security intervention co-ordinator Jabulani Ngubane paid tribute to Myeni as a “dedicated and committed” field ranger.
Ngubane said Myeni had been the recipient of numerous accolades and awards, including bravery awards and the Golden Lions Head which is awarded for the successful recovery of a loaded gun.
As a member of the anti-poaching unit, Myeni took part in numerous “dangerous” operations including combined security operations involving the police and Ezemvelo.