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Protrack Anti-Poaching Officer mauled to death by lioness

In the recent few weeks disastrous


events unfolded resulting in the tragic
loss of life. One of Protrack’s seasoned
anti-poaching veterans was killed on
duty when he was dragged from his
camp by a lioness. This event was the
cause of great shock, sadness and
anger from the family and friends of the
deceased and members of Protrack
alike. It quickly made nation wide news
followed by speculation of how this
could happen. The matter has been
thoroughly investigated by the SAPS,
Nature conservation authorities and the
various stake holders. The fact remains
however that is was a tragic accident
that happened in a potentially
dangerous work environment and could
have happened to anybody in the same
situation.
It is unconstructive to try to allocate
blame after the fact, yet adherence to
the set guidelines and training given to
the employees who work in these
conditions would likely have prevented
this disaster. Protrack employees are
put through stringent training
methodologies to deal with working in
areas containing dangerous game.
They have to rely on their wit, common
sense and training to keep them out of
harm’s way and as a last resort, a
firearm, which every team is issued before being dispatched onto their post.
We pass our condolences to the family
of the victim and a word of warning to
all in the same working conditions to
learn from this incident and not let
complacency or familiarity
unnecessarily put them in harms way.

Jaques, our resident trainee helicopter


pilot was flying in a helicopter in the
White River Area when a dagga
plantation was spotted from the air.
Arrangements were subsequently made
with the landowner to gain entrance into
the property. The team removed a total
of 400 plants with a value of roughly
R 20,000.00. The dagga was handed in
at the police station.

Protrack guards were subjected to


being held ransom while an ATM
bombing was orchestrated by a heavily
armed gang in the Acorn Hoek area.
Similarly, in the same area, our guard
was held up while firearms were
demanded from him. The security
environment by its very nature is
hazardous and the security personnel
put their lives on the line to make a
living. It is not always appreciated what
danger these people subject
themselves to until something goes
horribly wrong.
Tumi Morema was overjoyed in receiving his first ever vehicle that he now uses in
his new position as Guernsey area anti-poaching manager.
This promotion is well deserved as
Tumi since he joined the company in
2003 has distinguished himself in active
duty.

From meagre beginnings his initial


training was complimented with a
variety of courses and modules as he
progressed in his work. These include
the mandatory first aid levels, firearm
training, parachuting and our arduous
“clandestine patrol” course lasting 49
days.

His duty record features numerous


achievements and arrests. Tumi has
proven himself to be one of Protrack’s
elite.
A Thick-tailed Bush-baby was saved from almost certain death from a mob of
people in a Hoedspruit taxi rank.

This furry little animal sometimes known


as a Greater Galago (Otolemur
crassicaudatus) is nocturnal and
spends most of its time in trees. Their
call, hence the name, is a baby-like wail
and is one of the distinctive night time
calls in the bush.

The animal was spotted in a Monkey-


thorn tree overlooking a taxi rank. The
onlookers apparently believed that
seeing this animal was a bad omen
based on their superstitious beliefs or it
was simply to be killed for muti
purposes, food or an equally senseless
reason.

A resident, who witnessed the incident,


where people were trying to shoot the
bush-baby with a catapult, phoned the
local paper who in turn phoned
Moholoholo, the animal rehabilitation
centre. They in turn phoned Protrack
who were in closer proximity to the
incident.

Alex Volker along with three team


members rushed to the site to find the
creature high up in a Monkey-thorn tree
and a crowd of about thirty people
viewing the spectacle. The options were
simple, capture the animal or leave it to
be killed.

Climbing the thorn tree is less simple


than what would be imagined and not to
mention that the bush-baby was not
going to be easily cornered high up in
the tree. With persistence and resolve it
was coaxed out of the tree where it
decided to make a run for it on the
ground.

Evidently the Galago is far less nimble


and agile on the ground than in the
branches above and was easily
captured and later released in a nearby
secluded area.
Protrack Anti Poaching team discovered the “harvesting” of approximately 1000
Red billed Queleas near Manyeleti Nature Reserve.

Anti Poaching officers, Tumi Morema and Le Roux Benade were on vehicle patrol on the
morning of the 15th February 2009 at about 09h00. They came across a group of woman
and children carrying some articles, which roused their suspicion. On closer inspection it
was found that they carried 2 25 litre plastic drums, plastic bags, and 2 mielie bags
containing chicks and small adult birds, which were appeared to be Red-billed Quelea’s.
The youngest ones were chicks who had no feathers yet and others seemed to be
mature birds. This occurred on the tar road near the entrance to Manyeleti Nature
Reserve.

According to the applicable Environmental legislation the Red-billed Quelea


(Quelea quelea) is a non protected wild animal along with many other common bird
species. This bird is considered an agricultural pest especially to wheat farmers. Their
natural diet is grass seeds, but the prevalence of suitable crop feed causes an explosion
in their numbers and hence they are considered an agricultural pest in the same way as
locusts are.

Their nesting habits are such that up to 500 fledglings can be found in a single tree and
therefore they are easy pickings for people or predators.

From nature conservation perspective these birds are not considered as threatened and
are as such not protected. Obviously from the agricultural point of view they cause great
destruction and are seen as vermin. Anybody with right of access to property, in the form
of a letter of permission from the owner/occupier, or communal land may without
restriction legally gather, kill or harvest these birds, without restriction.

Should the Red-billed Quelea be utilised as a natural and abundant food resource for
impoverished local communities and simultaneously doing the agricultural sector a
favour?
What is a bush kitchen?

A bush kitchen in poaching terms is a temporary shelter hidden away in the bush
from where a poacher can store poached meat, hide, and lay low for an extended
period of time before and after checking his snares.

A recent arrest in the Gravelotte area of


the Limpopo Province, graphically
illustrates how some poachers live in
the bush whilst poaching.

The debate on whether subsistence


poaching is justifiable and where the
line between syndicate or commercial
poaching lies, is ongoing.

It is in cases such as these where these


“lines” blur into grey areas. It hardly
validates the death of a Kudu, two
Wildebeest, three Zebra and a Vulture
to feed a single family. This is a
business and a very lucrative and illegal
one at that all at the expense of the
legal occupier of private land.

In this instance it is clear that the


poacher occupied this temporary base
for some time, he had enough food to
sustain himself for many days, by eating
the food he had with him and his catch.
He had sleeping gear and salt with
which to process the meat that was
hanging on wire.
The poacher, who was arrested, did
not submit easily and attacked his
arresting officer with a knife. It must be
noted that poachers are criminals and
they fear the reprisals of the law as
would any other person caught in the
act of committing an offence. This
makes them potentially dangerous.
They are usually armed with at least
knives, spears or pangas and will not
hesitate to use them.

Poaching is simply not seen as a harsh


crime. It is not surprising that people
working in the anti-poaching industry
get despondent. They brave the
elements, imminent danger and many
obstacles stacked up against them to
apprehend poachers who slip through
the legal processes more often than
not.

To arrest a poacher, he must be caught


in the act either with the meat or
handling snares. Trespassing alone is
rarely taken seriously enough by the
authorities.

The losses suffered by the land owner


and the environment may be immense.
The replacement value of plains game
such as Zebra, Kudu and Wildebees
run into thousands, but the
White backed Vulture (Gyps africanus)
is listed as a specially protected bird
species in the Limpopo Environmental
Management Act No. 7 of 2003. These
Vultures are a necessary and integral part
of the food chain and often fall victim to a
variety of man induced hazards, which
include poaching. This bird has great
value in the muti trade for superstitious
reasons. Similarly the tail of the
Wildebees is also highly sought after by
traditional healing practitioners.

A lot of this meat would have simply gone


to waste and of the approximately 150
snares removed, many would have
remained set, despite the abundant
poached meat supply.

In South Africa, the media often informs


us of poaching. Usually it is about Rhino,
Elephant, Abalone, Cycads or marine
resources.

In the private sector and government


protected conservation areas alike
poaching is a problem of gigantic
proportions and the losses are
substantial, but what is really done about
it?