My anti-poaching fight's not over, vows Kruger head ranger

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My anti-poaching fight's not over, vows Kruger head ranger

Rhino killings have dropped, largely thanks to Ken Maggs and his team - but he has one more mission before he retires

Journalist

In less than three years from now, when he retires, Ken Maggs plans to be fishing at his favourite spot in his home town, Durban.
But before he does that the 62-year-old Kruger National Park head ranger says he has bigger game to catch.Over the past 15 years Maggs has overseen an anti-poaching effort that has almost halved the number of rhino killed in Kruger annually.
Figures given to the media on Tuesday show poachers killed 504 rhino last year, compared with 826 in 2015. This drop is largely ascribed to the efforts of Maggs and his team.
The figures were officially released in March by Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa.
And the veteran of 32 years hopes to bring that figure down to below 300 by the time he leaves.Their current operating budget is R215-million, while technology and equipment worth R250-million were acquired to aid their fight against poachers.
In contrast, the poachers work with basic technology, mostly just cellphones and rifles.
They move in at night, under the cover of darkness, and wild animals do not scare them.
Because they have to travel light, their pack would usually contain only Red Bull, painkillers and anti-inflammatories. Respectively these help them stay awake, keep moving when they get injured (because turning back is no option) and treat aching muscles.Maggs said, though, that their efforts were made increasingly difficult by corruption within the park itself.
“We are not immune to internal corruption,” he told Times Select.
“The crime syndicates will continue to infiltrate us, so we need to focus our efforts in terms of counter-intelligence and anti-corruption.
“I’m still young at heart and have a lot of fight in me.”
Proactive measures, including initiatives with Mozambican officials to better secure the two countries’ shared park borders, better risk management and a focus on intelligence gathering, have resulted in more poachers being  arrested outside the park than inside for the first time.
But, while that has led to a decrease in rhino poaching, a new trend has emerged in which elephants are targeted for their tusks.
In 2016, the park lost 46 elephants to poaching and that number increased to 67 in 2017.
“Rhino poaching is going to be with us for some time and the emerging elephant poaching is going to increase and that will present new challenges,” said Maggs.
In spite of the challenges in combating poaching, SanParks still hopes to expand the conservation areas of the park.SanParks managing executive Glen Phillips said a new park management plan, which aimed to bring greater stakeholder engagement and integrated land use, was in its final stages.
“We want to grow the wilderness areas in the Kruger,” said Phillips. “We are signing agreements for all the open areas of the park where there are [currently] no fences.
“We want to incorporate areas of the park that are community or privately owned and create more [camps] because the land is the same; it’s just under a different ownership model. We want to expand the area of conservation into these areas.”
More than two million people live within the 1,000km boundary of the park, and Phillips said that including them in the economy and growth of the two-million-hectare park was vital to the success of the plan.
“If people out there are not benefiting and seeing the value of the park, then that’s a major challenge. So it’s about how we integrate what we do.”But there would be no benefit for the intended beneficiaries if Maggs and his rangers did not continue their work to protect the Kruger’s 8,000 rhino and 12,000 elephants.
This, he says, is the legacy he wants to leave, especially because he loves every moment of what he is doing.
“I don’t think there’s a day that I’ve been unhappy in the park,” he said.
“I’m going to miss the sunrises and sunsets and just being in the bush. But I am leaving it in capable hands with my colleagues. Absolutely.”
By the numbers
Some of the interesting facts presented by SanParks include:
• In 2017, 67 elephants were killed, compared with 45 in 2016.
• There was a drop in the number of rhino killed: 504 in 2017 compared with 662 in 2016.

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