11 Jul Leading the charge
Founder of NPO Stop Rhino Poaching
Elise has worked in the wildlife industry since 2000, rst as secretary for the Wildlife Translocation Association and then at Bassair Aviation, which specialises in wildlife helicopter services.
‘It was during this time that I was exposed to the rhino crisis,’ she says. ‘I felt absolutely helpless, but knew that I had to try and help. Although there are a number of focus areas – each one critical to an overall solution – I was drawn to the anti-poaching side because of my relationship with the guys on the ground.’
She started StopRhinoPoaching.com in 2010 to raise awareness on the subject. The site quickly became so popular that she saw an opportunity to raise funds.
‘I never intended for StopRhinoPoaching.com to become a big organisation, but now we have a national footprint for strategic funding of security initiatives and ranger support on the frontlines. Our focus is almost entirely on the ground, supporting regional security and investigation activities. We also play a signi cant
role in networking – linking role players for rhino crime-related information sharing.’
The organisation has become a huge motivation for the teams they support because, through initiatives like these, the rangers know that there are people out there who care about them. ‘We get great feedback from the ground,’ she says. ‘One ranger’s life was saved after he was shot, thanks to his manager having attended a course we co-developed and sponsored. The manager was able to plug the wound with a trauma pack we provided, saving his life.
‘Late last year, another story had me in tears. We’ve deployed a number of rhino dogs that have contributed to arrests, but one saved a ranger’s life. A poacher had snuck up behind them, and the dog’s body language changed, alerting the ranger that someone was in the area. The poacher was already taking aim when he spotted him, and both escaped unharmed.’
The issue has become a personal one for Elise. ‘I hate the cruelty of it all,’ she says, ‘the senselessness and brutality, the fact that conservation rangers have needed to become trained soldiers. I need to know that every day I’ve done my best to support them. Rhino poachers are not just poor people from outlying communities; some of them are dangerous, hardened criminals.’
Though a lot of work still needs to be done, and Elise admits
that poaching will never be completely wiped off the earth, she’s positive about the future. Law enforcement in the eld has improved signi cantly, she says, and awareness is gaining momentum.
Senior state advocate
As a state prosecutor in the Pretoria High Court, Isabet was often sent out to smaller towns and so started working her rst court cases against poachers. ‘I’d always loved nature and our national parks,’
she explains, ‘but I knew nothing about prosecuting poachers at the time. It was a relatively new eld, and still is, and the learning curve was steep.’
She was assigned to cases of organised crime, including poaching syndicates,
and started out with only ve cases in 2010. Today, the unit has almost 100 open cases against poachers – and that’s only in the Lowveld. ‘It certainly is an uphill battle,’ she says. ‘Since it’s a very new eld, there’s very little authority or examples for courts to work from. Every single case, even illegal entry into our national parks, is crucial because it forms the blueprint for how future cases will be handled by a judge.’
But, Isabet says, huge strides are being made. ‘The courts are starting to see poaching as a violent crime, and we’ve had sentences of up to 77 years. We haven’t lost a single case – even if an accused only gets sentenced on a
smaller charge.’ She admits some people feel these sentences are very harsh,
but believes it’s an essential deterrent
– poachers often come from poor backgrounds, and the money involved in the industry means only very high stakes might discourage them.
‘Rangers, police members and dog teams put their lives on the line every day to ght this battle. ‘Poachers shoot to kill – whether people or animals.
And everyone involved has seen the heartlessness of it all, and it touches you. I’ve seen strong men become emotional when encountering a rhino that’s had
its face hacked off but is still alive. It’s ruthless out there.’
That’s why Isabet and her fellow prosecutors keep working on these cases, even though the hours are long and the in-tray is piling up every day. ‘When I feel hopeless,’ she says, ‘I think of all the people who’ve put in so much effort to grow the anti-poaching movement. The perception is that not enough is being done about the problem, but without all the hours some people have already put in, we would have been nowhere. Now we’re getting to a point where we can see a light – the tide might be turning some time soon.’
MAJOR-GENERAL JOHAN JOOSTE Head of anti-poaching at SA National Parks
Over the last two years, the ranger corps at SA National Parks has become like
a special-ops force, thanks to Johan’s efforts. ‘We started off by centralising command for our parks so that we can share intelligence,’ he says. ‘It’s a problem that was seriously hampering our reach and impact. Rangers also received training to better their anti-poaching techniques, and were equipped with navigation and night-vision gear.’
Combating poaching has become a
very dangerous ght over the last few years, and every ranger’s life is on the
line. They’ve also taken the war to the skies with a new helicopter force, the park perimeters have been rigged up with early warning sensors, and trained dogs are also used to help sniff out any trouble. Their efforts led to 227 arrests last year.
Despite these valiant efforts, poachers still aren’t deterred. More than 800
rhinos were killed in the Kruger National Park last year, and the number of poachers is only increasing; Johan estimates that around 4 500 entered the park in 2014.
‘The good news is that we expect to nally see a drop in these numbers by the end of this year,’ he says. ‘A big help was
to form an alliance with our neighbouring parks and Mozambican police and authorities. Most Kruger poachers come through the northern border, and sharing intelligence has given us an advantage. Despite all our new technology, the human element remains the most important weapon in the ght against poaching.’
The key, Johan believes, is to clean
up the park from the outside in. ‘Once a poacher is inside the park, it’s too late, because the area we then have to cover is just too big. The park has a 1 000km-long border, which is already huge, but more manageable.’
Within the park, they’re concentrating their efforts in the south, where most of the 8 000-9 000 rhinos roam. They’re also
exporting rhinos to other safer parks. ‘This ght won’t be easily won,’ admits
Johan, ‘and there are no medals for the brave people trying to make a difference. But quitting is not an option. Rhinos, and any animals in our country, have such
an important symbolic meaning and must be protected.’
Marketing director at defence and aerospace company, Paramount Group Weighing a tonne and standing nearly 10m tall, Parabot seems like a giant, real-life Transformer. The ‘robot’, constructed
with the body of an Mbombe 6 armoured vehicle, is the Paramount Group’s latest endeavour in raising awareness around the ght against rhino poaching.
Topped with a massive rhino horn, Parabot makes a big statement indeed.
It’s been showcased at events such as
the Rand Show, and has drawn a lot of attention to the plight of rhinos in our country. ‘Parabot is a symbol of resistance,’
explains Eric, ‘a symbol of the ght back, and a message to the criminal gangs who are behind the slaughter that we will not give up on Africa’s wildlife heritage. The defence industry is in a unique position
to strengthen conservation efforts. We have technology and equipment that is making a real difference.’
As Africa’s largest privately owned defence and aerospace company, Paramount Group believes the industry can play a signi cant role in ghting poaching through the provision of technologies, equipment and training. Over the last two years, the Paramount Group has provided aerial platforms and combat- training programmes for park rangers,
and established South Africa’s largest K9 facility to train detection and ranger dogs for anti-poaching patrols.
To develop and promote Parabot, they partnered with the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, a charitable organisation that aims to nd new and innovative ways to support SA’s national parks. Parabot itself took 600 hours to build, and was made by Cape Town lm-effects company CFX.
‘The Ichikowitz Family Foundation
was founded with the belief that Africa’s potential can be unlocked through education, the respect for human rights, a better understanding of Africa’s dynamic history and the conservation of its rich biodiversity,’ says Eric. ‘We aim to promote conservation to this end.’