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August 2, 2015

Program Director, Director-General of the Department of Environmental Affairs, Ms. Nosipho Ngcaba, CEO of South African National Parks, Mr. Fundisile Mketeni, community representatives, members of the media…

It has been over a century, 117 years, since the very first conservation area was proclaimed in South Africa.

Which may make it easy for some to forget that our national parks, from the vast plains of the Kruger National Park, to the sweeping coastlines of the Ttitsikamma Marine Protected Area – look like this not just because of Mother Nature, but because they are protected. And because they continue to be conserved thanks to the efforts of the men and women we celebrate here today.

World Ranger Day is supported by the International Rangers Federation, and is marked annually on the 31st of July to acknowledge these, our dedicated guardians of our natural heritage; a heritage bequeathed not to us alone, but to future generations. It is this principle that the provisions of our Constitution relating to environmental rights emphasise: the protection and regeneration of our environment as an inheritance.

Like many countries, South Africa faces the challenge of managing its natural endowments in the face of increased environmental degradation.

The threats are varied, complex and multi-faceted, and range from the threat posed by climate change, to the activities of transnational, organised criminal syndicates involved in the illegal trade and trafficking of wildlife.

It is our rangers who are at the frontline: whether they are battling wildfires, or confronting poachers.

As the threats to our natural heritage are amplified, so the roles and responsibilities of rangers have steadily evolved.

Being at the forefront of conservation now carries a heavy risk, for which many of our brave rangers have paid the ultimate price.

I would like to ask you to join me now in observing a minute of silence in memory of those who have been hurt, or lost their lives in the cause of conservation; not just here in South Africa, but around the world.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is no coincidence that we as government have chosen the Marakele National Park to host this year’s World Ranger Day celebrations.

As you will know, one of Africa’s most iconic species, the rhino, is increasingly under threat from the poacher’s gun. Rhino populations around the country are vulnerable, as are the rangers who have dedicated their lives to protecting the animals.

In particularly hard hit areas the ranger corps are being militarised, with some rangers engaged in daily confrontations with heavily armed gangs in the parks.

Considering the magnitude of the problem, which we as government are tackling through the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros plan approved by Cabinet in 2014: we are all the more keen to trumpet our successes.

I have been told that it has been nearly two years since the last rhino was poached here in the Marakele National Park, and that during that last incident, the suspects were successfully tracked down, arrested by our rangers.

It is an extraordinary achievement, for which I salute them on behalf of not just the Department of Environmental Affairs, but also ALL South Africans!

The success of the Rhino Protection Plan under implementation here at Marakele is fundamentally linked to the work of the park Rangers and the other staff, and the networks of cooperation between the park’s management and those living in the vicinity.

This model, of integrating communities into the mainstream of conservation, is one we champion and are extremely proud of.

For it is a fact that until democracy, the relationship between our national parks and our people was defined by dispossession and discrimination.

Our protected areas existed for the sake of the very few, leading to distrust and suspicion between the management of the national parks, and the communities in which they were located.

It has been under this government, led by the African National Congress, that the gates that once sealed off our protected areas from our people, have been flung open.

Now more than ever, communities are playing a role in preserving our natural heritage, and as we continue to fight the threat of illegal wildlife crime as we are here in Marakele National Park, they have become our allies and partners.

And we know that we could not have done so without our rangers and other staff who continue to nurture these relationships.

Theirs is a task that can be rightly called “always on their feet.”

Not only are they out battling the elements, sometimes spending weeks out in the bush at a time – but they are also our eyes and ears on the ground – cultivating networks in communities and building relationships of trust – for the sake of protecting our wildlife.

We recognise that in order for biodiversity conservation to make sense to ordinary South Africans, we have to ensure that we collaborate with communities, particularly those who are directly affected by poaching.

The Rhino Protection Plan that has been so successful here in the Marakele National Park is one of six under implementation in parks around the country. As part of this plan, our rangers have, among other things, been receiving intensive professional training to deal with the threat posed by armed poaching gangs. We have also provided our rangers with extra equipment and other support, such as canine systems.

The Integrated Strategic Management plan outlines a series of interventions and measures we as government are employing to protect our rhino: and central to each and every one of them, is providing our rangers with whatever support they need.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Earlier this week the Rhino Conservation Awards were held in Johannesburg to acknowledge those at the forefront of conservation of the species across not just South Africa, but all the African rhino range states.

Not only were two of our Kruger National Park staffers runners-up in the category of best Field Ranger, but our world famous Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) won in the Best Conservation Practitioner category. I say they are world famous because of their efforts, and not just because they are known for being a ladies-only hit squad!

The work of the Black Mambas doesn’t just focus on conducting anti-poaching operations in the Balule Nature Reserve in Limpopo; they also spend a great deal of time educating communities in the area on the benefits of conservation and rhino protection.

Engaging with communities directly to combat wildlife crime is a cornerstone of government’s anti-poaching efforts countrywide.

The introduction of Environmental Monitors (EM’s) into areas facing high numbers of poaching incidents has played a demonstrable role in combating this crime.

These so-called rhino ambassadors play the role of protector and educator interchangeably: and is testimony to the increasingly important role they play in wildlife management today.

Another example of the multi-faceted and changing role of the ranger has been in the Table Mountain National Park. Faced with increased incidents of criminal activity targeting visitors, we have now introduced a Visitor Safety Ranger, as part of our Visitor Safety Programme.

These rangers have been provided with specialised training and equipment enabling them to respond effectively to incidents. Their presence has led to a significant reduction in crime in the Park. Statistics show that reported crime in the Park has stabilised at half the levels they had reached before the rangers were introduced.

Given the magnitude of the publicity around rhino poaching it is important to remember that this is a crime not isolated to any particular species, but affects much of our other flora and fauna. South Africa’s extensive coastline and marine life, for example, is under threat of exploitation by criminal syndicates.

This has negative consequences for our sustainable use policies – that aim to create and maintain large-scale opportunities for our people to live, work and eat from our oceans: and for our oceans to be conserved for future generations.

Our Marine Rangers are playing a key role in stamping out abalone poaching along our coastlines. In the Bird Island Marine Protected Area (MPA), which forms part of the Addo Elephant National Park, they have managed to successfully manage and effectively eliminate abalone poaching.

They are based on Bird Island, and equipped with a patrol vessel. Together with well-established informer networks, these rangers have managed to achieve an extraordinary feat, as have the rangers here at Marakele.

They have shown that though the task is an immense one, the actions of rangers in the areas in which they work, can in fact clear an area of poaching. They are successes we once again applaud and seek to build upon.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Next year South Africa will host the 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.

This will provide us with an opportunity to demonstrate not just this country’s conservation successes, but also to promote the sustainable utilisation of our natural resources as an integral part of conservation and economic growth.

South Africa is a country where sustainable utilisation of natural resources is constitutionally protected. For we know that if used responsibly, our natural endowments can aid in resolving our many challenges through job creation, skills development and economic upliftment. Because our national parks aren’t just places of beauty.

They are a major contributor towards community upliftment, a source of employment, and incubators of the next generation of conservationists.

Which is why the Department of Environmental Affairs, through our Environmental Protection and Infrastructure Programme has prioritised funding to our People and Parks programme, as well as to the wildlife economy. An amount of R 877 447 290 for People and Parks and R 130 300 000 with a total of R1 007 747.290 has been budgeted for the next 3 years.

To foster true pride in our natural parks among all our people, we have to make them key to all decision-making; for they are our current and future ambassadors of conservation.

Many of the rangers we celebrate here today did not grow up believing this was career path available to them.

It is a testimony to how far we have come as a country, under the leadership of the African National Congress, that those tasked with protecting and preserving the sweeping vistas of our parks and the pristine coastlines of our MPA’s – are truly representative of all of South Africa!

In conclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to once again remind those gathered here today, that our country’s natural splendor – which draws hundreds of thousands of tourists to South Africa every year, is not as beautiful as it is, by chance.

Our forefathers realised that the natural beauty they looked upon back then, like here in Marakele – had to be legally protected to ensure it would be there for future generations.

The work of a ranger is a diverse and complex one. They have and will continue to lead the way for us in conserving our country’s natural wonders.. in tribute to all that they do, let us follow in their footsteps, each and every one of us.
I thank you!

From → rhinos, Wildtrade

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