South African National Parks is the body responsible for managing South Africa's national parks. SANParks was formed in 1926, and currently manages 21 parks consisting of over 4,000,000 hectares, over 3% of the total area of South Africa.
We were invited to join up SANPARKS officials on a media excursion to one of the best well known parks, The Kruger National Park. The event clashed when the Rand Airshow on the 19 August 2018, but this trip was well worth seeing the behind the scenes action what all different role players are tasked to do from anti-poaching to much more.
Day 1: We made way up to Tshowkone, a halfway house to Satara where we met up with Game Capture officials and witnessed how to capture Wildesbeest, as some animals are being relocated to the Mozambique’s Zinave National Park.
The Zinave National Park has taken years of beating on its Wildlife from raging civil war, thanks to SANPARKS the reserve is slowly getting animals to repopulate the area.
After the procedure a total of 20 Wildebeest were captured the animals were sent on a 26 hour journey to the The Zinave National Park in Mozambique.
We then travelled in OSVs (Open Safari Vehicles) to Satara, at the same time enjoying some of the large numbers of game near the Northern part of the Kruger. We reached the Satara airstrip where we were welcomed by Letaba section Ranger and Pilot, Andrew Desmet in one of the three Bathawks the park operates.
It was good to see that Andrew is well recovered after being shot and wounded in the stomach from shoot-out with poachers back in 2013. He explained to the media what a great aircraft the Bathawk is fulfilling all the different roles it plays in the park to anti-poaching patrols, game censuses etc.
It’s also affordable to operate the Bathawk in rough terrain, the section ranger of Satara will soon be receiving a Foxbat light sport aircraft to cover the Satara region of the park, a new hanger is currently being built to keep the aircraft safe from wild animals and any other sort of harm from Mother Nature.
During our visit to Satara air strip we also got to see what a busy airfield it can be, with the arrival of two Pilatus PC12s and a Cessna Grand Caravan bringing tourists to the Singita Private Lodge not too far from the field.
After a quick lunch we made our way back to our hotel in Hazyview to get some rest for day 2.
Day 2: Was upon us and we were on our way through Paul Kruger Gate where we came across a road block by Parks rangers, SAPS and members of the SANDF. The roadblock was searching all visitors of the park and the Canine (K9) unit was sniffing for any sort illegal items that visitors should not have on them, that being rhino horn, explosives, ammunition, animal parts etc. A member of the public was escorted out of the park for not having a drivers licence.
After leaving the area we were told we were off to a crime scene near the Berg-en-Dal area where two rhinos were shot a couple of days before. We left our vehicles with rangers to go witness something that one’s doesn’t want to see more than once in a lifetime. The lifeless body of a rhino, the young cow who had a calf was shot in the head and its horn ruthlessly removed by poachers.
The Cows calf was fortunately saved by rangers a day later and has being moved to a rehabilitation centre outside the park borders. The SAPS and Park Officials took time to capture as much evidence from the scene to hopefully get hold of the culprits.
Skukuza Airport was next on our list to visit, we arrived and made way to the MAJOC facilities, where all joint operations take place. The Parks Airwing was then on our "to see" list, and got to see the Parks Airwing from its four H125s 'Squirrel' Helicopters, one of them we got to witness the day before in the game capture flown by Grant Knight.
The C182 was also tucked away in the Hangar, while the parks Cessna 206 was up north on an operation. The park is still in need of more fixed wing and choppers for anti-poaching patrols and other fulfilling needs.
Our last visit was the K9 unit near the Pretoriuskop area, this is where the symbiotic relationship that can be experienced between the handler and his dog, and the stronger the bond, the better the teamwork in the ongoing fight against poachers.
It takes 6 weeks for a dog to reach its graduation to being a tracker. We came to the end of our excursion and got to witness some incredible behind the scenes work.
Keep up the good work SANPARKS, We will win this war against poaching.