Elephants return to Karoo after 150 years

2018-08-09 06:00
=In a joint operation by SANParks’ marine, air, field and dog unit rangers they showcased their skills in how they track, trace, chase and accustom “poachers”. Seen above are members of the marine rangers with an abalone “poacher”.                   Photos:HEILIE COMBRINCK

=In a joint operation by SANParks’ marine, air, field and dog unit rangers they showcased their skills in how they track, trace, chase and accustom “poachers”. Seen above are members of the marine rangers with an abalone “poacher”. Photos:HEILIE COMBRINCK

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IT took about 12 hours, from darting to delivering 13 of the first 28 elephants, and making history releasing these gentle majestic African giants to an area where their ancestors roamed 150 years ago.

But, July 31st was not only the celebration of expanding the range of Addo Elephant National Park’s elephants to the Darlington Dam section of the park. It was also World Rangers Day, commemorating rangers dedicating their lives to protecting South Africa’s wildlife and natural heritage.

“The danger in die field is no longer the animals like mambas, lions and elephants - there is a game-changer - the danger now is a two-legged individual with a rifle,” said Property Mokoena, SANpark’s Managing Executive of 18 parks (excluding Kruger National Park).

“Elephants are under severe threat from poachers, habitat loss and human wildlife conflict. So by providing the new Darlington Dam area, we are providing a new habitat for them, which is key as a conservation strategy.

“The decision to move the elephants was made in an effort to alleviate the pressure on the environment and on the herds roaming the Addo main camp,” said Mokoena.

SANparks have about 900 rangers in total and as poachers are becoming more sophisticated it has forced SANparks to evolve to now also have mobility in the air. Rangers consist of field rangers, marine rangers, dog units and the voluntary honorary rangers.

“There are about 1 600 honorary rangers who give freely of their time and expertise to work at parks. It is very rare to find volunteers in this day and age, but we are lucky and recognise them as trusted channels for public support and fundraising.

“Over the past 3 years, honorary rangers have provided SANparks with R150 million in donations,” said Mokoena.

In attendance of the event was the Department of Environmental Affairs’ Deputy Minister, Barbara Thomson who said, “It is you, the men and women on the frontline, who are responsible for keeping our precious natural resources safe. You put your lives on the line every day to keep our rhino, elephant and all other endangered species safe. On behalf of all South Africans, I want to thank each and every one of you.”

She paid special tribute to Respect Mathebula (33) who was the first South African National Parks field ranger killed by rhino poachers in the Kruger National Park. This tragic incident happened on 19 July 2018.

“Many rangers regularly face armed poachers, often outnumbered by these well-armed and well-organised criminal gangs. But they continue to soldier on and therefore they deserve our deepest respect and admiration,” said Minister Thomson.

Elephants are part of natural heritage

She thanked Network for Animals who sponsored the moving of the 28 elephants, comprising three family groups, from Addo’s 180 000 hectares main camp to the recently fenced 45 000 hectares Darlington Dam section of the park.

The mayor of Jansenville, councillor Deon de Vos said, “from a mere 11 elephants nearly 90 years ago to the now more than 600 in Addo Elephant National Park, we welcome the family of elephants to the Karoo side of the park where 150 years ago they roamed.

“These elephants are part of our national heritage which needs the protection of our rangers who have to combat poachers. We honour and thank you for your dedication,” said De Vos.

Dries Engelbrecht, SANPARKS sector manager: Frontier Region, said the planning of the operation to move the elephants started more than three years ago and every aspect of the process was carefully assessed and reassessed to make sure every minuscule detail would go according to plan. And so it did ...

“Now I can’t wait to see one day at sunset the elephants relaxing by the waterside. That will be a magnificent sight and will make me very, very happy!” said Engelbrecht.

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