This blog is about an experience we had on trail with rhino poaching. It has been a major problem in the park for years now. The rangers call it the rhino wars…
The Italians – Or as they called themselves the “I-ties”
Before the kids were born, I was able to join Steven on quite a few trails. I love them! Walking in Kruger is my favourite way to experience the bush and the trails in particular are a fantastic way to break away and enjoy Kruger’s wilderness to its fullest! In another blog called ‘there is a snake in my hut’, I explain a bit more about how the trails work.
On this specific trail, Steven’s guests were 8 Italian gentlemen from Johannesburg. What a fun group they were! A little bit noisy, as Italians are, but we still had lovely sightings during our walks. We walked through a huge herd of buffalo the one morning and while we were having snacks under a big Jackalberry tree still watching the buffalo, a rhino walked through the herd right past us. There was a pair of Giant Eagle Owl in the tree overhead; it was a lovely experience for the guys from the city.
The afternoons in camp were not as quiet and peaceful as usual. The SANParks helicopter had been very active in the area around the trails camp. Each afternoon we could see and hear it fly up and down the gorge and over the hills towards Mozambique. Rhino poaching had been very bad in the areas close to the Mozambiquan border and we figured the helicopter must have been chasing poachers as they were making their way through the park and across the border.
During that time, the army and the Special Forces were deployed in the park to combat the rhino poaching. They were in the Olifants wilderness trails area too. We could see the army vehicle tracks on the one road, going to their pickets. But we never saw them or the Special Forces. They would patrol the area, but preferred to stay unseen by tourists. It was a good feeling that they were here though. A feeling that at least something was being done to stop the senseless killing of rhinos in the park.
So that last morning, after breakfast, we were on our way back to Letaba. The guests we chatting as we drove, they had had such a lovely time on trail and they were still asking Steven questions about all sorts when we came around a corner. Steven slammed on brakes. On our left were two men in camouflage standing looking at us. There was a third guy lying on the ground. Next to him was a blue bag with something inside. Steven switched off the car and got his rifle out. He told us to stay in the vehicle.
The two men where from what turned out to be undisclosed Special Forces troops. And the guy on the ground, lying under an apple leaf shrub, was a poacher and in the blue bag next to him was a freshly poached set of rhino horns…
The one trooper was tall and slender, with a bandana around his head. We nicknamed him Rambo afterwards, because that was who he reminded us of. He was still very worked up, full of adrenaline, holding his 9 mm pistol. After Steven told him to holster his side arm in front of the guests, he told Steven what happened. And for once, the Italians were tjoep still.
See the Special Forces being professionals don’t like to be seen by tourists, so when they heard the sound of the cruiser and the chatting Italians, they hid by the side of the road waiting for us to pass. But before we were near, a group of three rhino poachers had also heard the approaching vehicle or most probably our noisy I-ties and were making a run for the border.
So as the two soldiers were waiting for us to pass, they all of a sudden saw three poachers running towards them. They broke cover, trying to make an arrest and a shoot out occurred. I don’t know any details, but we arrived minutes after they apprehended the man we saw lying on the ground.
I could see steam coming out of Steven’s ears. This was his wilderness area… this was one of his rhino’s!!! And it looked like a black rhino horn!!! The guests, Steven, Sambok his assistant and Shadrach and myself, everyone was devastated. Another rhino lost so someone in Asia can have his imaginary cure for cancer or his aphrodisiac… they might as well just eat their own fingernails. They are made of the same keratin.
We left as the army ambulance and other people were arriving. It was a very quiet drive back to Letaba… Neither Steven nor myself have been in a similar situation since. But the fight against rhino poaching continues every day by the rangers, field rangers and dogs here in Kruger National Park. They are fighting a war and risking their lives so our children and their children can still come to this beautiful place and see black and white rhino’s in the wild.