Deputy Minister Ms Barbara Thomson’s speech at the celebration and commemoration of the World Ranger Day

Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape, 31 July 2018

 

Thank You Programme Director;
Mayor of the Beyers Naude local municipality, Mr Deon De Vos;
Councillor Nothisi Vanda of the Beyers Naude local municipality;
Managing Exective for Parks at SANParks, Mr Property Mokoena, and officials from SANParks;
Mr Brian Davis of Network for Animals;
Mayibuye Indlovu Development Trust and chair of the SANParks Addo Forum,  Mr Joseph Fletcher;
Sponsor of from Total SA, Reina;
Mr Padayache;
Members of the Community of Waterford;
Most of all our rangers who are here today;
Members of the media

Good Morning,

It is with mixed feelings that I welcome you here today to mark ‘World Ranger Day’. The Addo Elephant Park – a bastion of conservation success in our beautiful country – is the ideal place to be celebrating such an important day in the lives of rangers worldwide.

You may wonder why I say I am marking this day with mixed feelings.  It is because two days ago, we were burying one of our Rangers who was killed in the line of duty in the Kruger National Park by a poacher.  It is also a day in which we celebrate our conservation successes – achieved with the support of our able ranger corps – and the release of 27 elephants into the picturesque section of the Addo Elephant National Park.

It was less than two weeks ago that field Ranger Respect Mathebula and his colleagues tracked and accosted a group of alleged rhino poachers in the Crocodile Bridge area of the Kruger National Park. Mr. Mathebula, a 33-year-old field ranger, was shot and severely wounded in the contact.  He succumbed to his wounds shortly thereafter.

Mr. Mathebula served as a ranger at the Shangoni Ranger Section in the Kruger National Park since 2015. In July 2016, he moved to the Crocodile Bridge Section in the same position.

More sadly is that, Respect Mathebula, is the first field ranger to be killed in contact with poachers in the Kruger National Park, since efforts were stepped up to combat the scourge of rhino poaching. This young man from Mpumalanga is survived by: his wife, Wisdom Ndlovu; their four children; five brothers; two sisters; and a vast number of extended family.

While this is a responsibility that rests squarely on the shoulders of each one of us, rangers are specific men and women that work at the sharp end of environmental crime. It is therefore a great privilege and honour for me to be part of an event of this nature where we can celebrate and pay homage to these true guardians of our environment, like Mr Mathebula. Every day these brave men and women put their lives at risk to protect our endangered species. Year in and year out, they brave the bitter cold and searing heat in honour of their pledge to protect our environment.

Many Rangers regularly face armed poachers at tragic cost to their own safety. Often outnumbered by well-armed and well-organised poachers and criminal gangs, they continue to soldier on and for this they deserve nothing but our deepest respect and admiration. It is appropriate, therefore, that we have a day set aside to acknowledge and salute these guardians of our environment – hence we are here today.

Although Addo was originally proclaimed to protect a single species, priorities have now changed to conserve the rich biological diversity found in the area. This is the only ‘Big Seven’ national park in the world stretching from the seasonal Algoa Bay - home of the Southern right whales and great white sharks to the Nama-Karoo biome of the Darlington section in the north of the Park. The park spans more than 180 000 hectares.

This is what ‘World Ranger Day’ all is about. World Ranger Day offers a chance to pay tribute to rangers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. It is also a day on which we as Government can say to Rangers that their work and wellbeing matters to us. It is a day on which we can re-affirm our assurance to them that we stand fully behind them and will continue to support them by building their capacity through training and equipping them with basic field gear.

As government we need to boost the morale of Rangers by showing them their battle against poachers and other environmental crimes are not in vain. We want to tell you that we understand and fully appreciate the fact that poaching goes much deeper than mere physical security.  Social and economic problems such as unemployment and poverty are part of the problem. In other words it is a multi-dimensional problem that extends beyond provincial borders, countries and government departments. We are committed to developing a multi-dimensional strategy in support of your efforts.

Our support will only extend to those who are committed in executing their function in an honest manner. It will be naïve of us to deny the potential for bribery and corruption fuelled by large amounts of cash offered by poaching syndicates. These poaching syndicates are well organised and have the financial means to buy services of government officials. I am confident that the majority of our rangers are good honest men and women who are doing this job for the love of it. Without these unsung heroes and heroines there would be no conservation. They need our respect and proper support.

When we think of rangers, we usually picture a person patrolling the veld, walking through thick bush as they monitor and protect our wildlife. There are, however, additional aspects to a ranger’s work in a park such as Addo. That is why we are here at the Darlington Dam today – to showcase the work done by marine rangers in our national parks, and to show how marine and terrestrial rangers work together to protect our natural heritage and arrest poachers.

It is not only the rhino or elephant, or the pangolin that are poached in South Africa.  Species such as the abalone are also illegally harvested. Illegal fishing and dumping of waste into the oceans is also a challenge. Sharks are caught for the fins, while whales and other ocean species are dying due to over-fishing and the amount of plastic and other waste dumped in our oceans.

Conserving these species comes with great challenges with high risk of environmental and socio-economic impacts. It is with this in mind that we have started a process of moving these 27 majestic animals from the main Addo game viewing area to roam here in the Darlington section of the park. By expanding the range of the elephants, the pressure on the environment and on the herds roaming the Addo region will be alleviated.

We would like to give thanks to the Network for Animals for their sponsorship that enabled this first group of elephants – comprising of three family groups – to be relocated to this recently fenced area. In recent months a number of other species have also been introduced to Darlington, including lion, leopard and eland. I also would like to take this opportunity to thank SANParks for hosting this event in recognition of the work done by our rangers. I am sure it will serve as further motivation and encouragement to our rangers to continue their good work.

It is you, the men and women on the frontline, who are responsible for keeping our precious natural resources safe.  You put your lives on the line every day to keep our rhino’s, elephants and other species safe.  On behalf of all South Africans I want to thank each and every one of you, including your families. Without their support, you would not be able to work so tirelessly, sometimes for days on end, to protect our natural world.

Conservation and preservation play an important role in ensuring that this third largest national park in South Africa is properly managed.

In conclusion I want to re-emphasize the importance of community involvement in our conservation efforts. As communities we share the same space with our wildlife. Therefore, without community involvement, there will be no conservation.

Rangers also play a critical role in this regard through community awareness programmes.

I thank you.