MBOMBELA, SOUTH AFRICA, Anti-poaching initiatives remain the top priority at the Kruger National Park which has declared war on the problem which often leads to certain death for both man and animal.

It's war. Poachers are coming in armed and they want to get their horn or task. They are willing to risk their lives and if we get in their way, they are willing to end our lives, said Andrew Desmet, a section ranger at the national park.

Addressing the media on Monday at the Kruger National Park, Desmet said the pressure is intense as there are daily incursions in the park.

Last month, a Kruger ranger was shot during a shootout with an alleged group of poachers and died on the way to hospital. The rangers had been tracking the alleged poachers, supported by the K9 canine unit.

Another challenge faced by the park is that of rangers who are willing to work with poachers for money.

The constant battle is the enemy within. The money is so great that there are people who are enticed to follow that route," said Desmet.

When you become a ranger or section ranger, you need to manage that situation. You'll manage it by controlling the information. [In the past], we have caught some of the rangers who became involved in poaching. You have to keep an eye on the guys and watch their lifestyle."

As a section ranger, Desmet is responsible for managing the area in Letaba and he is also a ranger pilot.

Aircraft are a fantastic tool to have for a ranger on the ground ..... it's an aerial asset to use that is affordable. Lots of reserves have some sort of aerial support these days, especially for anti-poaching, he said.

The park currently has three ultra-light aircraft operating in the area. The aircraft each fly every day for a minimum of two hours and a maximum of six hours a day, depending on what's happening on the ground as well as the weather.

Our focus now is anti-poaching because that is our priority. We need to get a proper lid on the poaching, which I think we are doing a sterling job. The visibility of the aircraft deters poachers from coming in, Desmet said.

More than 360 suspected rhino poachers have in the past six months been handed varying sentences.


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