Tracking makes it possible to be hot on the heels of poachers

Armed border guards or environmental police go on patrol with South African anti-poaching rangers working in Mozambique. The lives of these rangers, however, are still constantly in danger.

The Greater Libombos Conservancy recently came into being and in some places there is no fence between the reserves in the GLC and the Kruger National Park.

It becomes important that all the other methods that they can use to empower themselves must be utilised to the limit. Intelligence, surveillance and tracking data are three such force multipliers.

Tracking is a powerful weapon both before and after the sound of a high-calibre hunting rifle.To Henk Bam, an anti-poaching ranger with Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), rifle fire is a familiar sound.

Not only is he used to shots ringing out when wildlife crimes are committed, he has been on the battlefield. He is a trained British army paratrooper who saw action in Afghanistan.

Now on patrol as a member of an anti-poaching unit in Mozambique, protecting the fence between the notorious Poachers’ Heaven and a reserve in the Greater Lebombo Conservancy (GLC), his tracking skills are one of the tools that he relies on.

By agreement, the eastern border of some of these conservancies in Mozambique now forms the border fence of the KNP.

It is of paramount importance that these reserves are well protected against wildlife crimes. The area that Bam and his team protect, under the leadership of Sean van Niekerk, is opposite the Intensive Protective Zone where the highest percentage of white rhinos in the world is found.

The rate of poaching, though decreasing, is still far too high to keep the population stable. For a month at a turn Bam rises at 04:30 to patrol the fence at 20 kilometres per hour. Two track-spotting rangers accompany him on his patrol of the almost three-metre-high electrified fence.

“The fence forces poachers to leave a footprint,” remarks Bam.

With one eye on the road and the other on the metre-wide strip next to the 40-kilometre fence, he scans the ground for any lead that poachers may have entered or exited the reserve.

“It is my early-morning newspaper,” he says, referring to the strip of sand. “And the beginning of any follow-up operation.”

This follow-up operation would be according to their motto: Quick detection, quick reaction.

Elize Botha runs the communications between rangers from the Ops Room.

The ops room team directs the rangers, chopper and dog handler on the next step forward.