This small group of heroes is working in the Greater Lebombo Conservancy (GLC), an area of 2,483 km2 and currently the most critical piece of land on the planet for rhino conservation. Tucked into a northern sector of this area, the International Coalition of Rhino Protection (ICORP) supports our anti-poaching team in the daily struggle against the poaching of rhinos. It is all that stands between the world’s highest concentrations of rhino and the world’s highest concentration of rhino poaching syndicates. Despite this, it has remained an almost forgotten anomaly in South Africa’s top-level conservation planning for the past 7 years, and continues to act as a highway for rhino poachers entering KNP. The GLC is where our sights must be set.
Kruger National Park, South Africa, is home to up to 40% of the worlds remaining rhino. 90% of these rhino reside in the bottom half of KNP below the Ollifants River, with 60% of these rhino residing in the southernmost quarter of the Park. In 2014 KNP accounted for 68% of South Africa’s 1215 poached rhino. Major General Johan Jooste, head of Special Operations in KNP, asserts that around 80% of the poachers responsible for this carnage come from Mozambique or exit back into Mozambique. The Greater Lebombo Conservancy is the stretch of land they must cross to reach the killing fields of KNP.
Wave upon wave of armed and dangerous poaching gangs are killing rhinos to smuggle their horns to Vietnam. ICORP’s APU stands in the gap; acting as a stopper and buffer, cutting off poaching infiltration, and monitoring this area of Mozambique which is being used as a springboard into the greater Kruger National Park. On the Lebombo Reserve, snaring happens on a massive scale so that meat can be dried and used as rations for the rhino poachers. These poachers spend days at a time in areas where rhinos are found, patiently waiting to strike.
What is driving this “highly organized” crime ring?
If you guessed “China,” you were wrong. The answer is Vietnam. The country’s appetite for rhino horn is so great that it now fetches up to $100,000/kg, making it worth more than its weight in gold. (Horns average around 1-3 kg each, depending on the species.)
Our team needs to be well equipped and supported. Its members risk their lives daily and are away from their families for long periods at a time. Their needs are real and we rely heavily on the good-natured folks out there to step up and become friends of our APU team. We are putting in place our newly formed K9 (trained dog unit). We need to build additional kennels, get the best food for our working K9s and ensure that our handlers receive the best training. ICORP will be building a training facility to train more local Mozambique citizens to become guardians of their own wildlife. This is one of many top priority projects which need to be developed and implemented at our base.
We have made a commitment to this cause and are determined to achieve the best outcome for our wildlife.