Update on WLS Bio-Monitoring Patrols
As South Africa celebrates the good news that the strict Covid related lockdowns have had a positive effect on the slow down of rhino poaching in this country, conversely we should be aware that this translates, sadly, to an anticipated increase in appetite for the illicit trade in rhino horn and other illegally traded species.
The 30% reduction in rhinos poached in 2020 over the same period in 2019 can be attributed to various effective initiatives in addition to the fact that the lockdown imposed serious obstacles to the movement between provinces, coupled with a strong police presence and greatly reduced human traffic in the Parks which made poaching activities more readily detectable. Important to note too, that the Parks and privately owned areas were also able to deploy significantly more personnel to conservation issues as opposed to the normal demands and balancing of the business of hospitality and guest activities.
As we move out of strict lockdowns, so, sadly, do we see an upsurge in poaching of protected species. Public activity in the Parks is ramping up and Park personnel returning to the requirements that the return of normalised activity demands. Coupled with the strain on all staff of the Covid related dynamics of illness and requisite isolations, quarantines etc, the presence of the Wilderness Leadership School in providing Priority Species Monitoring Patrols in the Parks has been welcomed by Parks management.
With more than 1200 patrol hours under our belts, these patrols are being well integrated into the various programs within the Parks. From Elephant population monitoring to covert and normalised observation patrols for rhino protection and other protected species, the guides of the Wilderness Leadership School are coming into their own in highlighting their bush and tracking skill, ability to remain undetected for long periods in difficult climatic conditions and wilderness survival skills. All of this is as a result of the collective team dynamics honed over the many years of experience gained in providing the iconic wilderness trails to thousands of people.
The fact that these patrols remain as a “bubble” and are able to self isolate back at HQ between patrols, coupled with stringent Covid protocols designed for trails also looks to the safety of the personnel concerned.
We have now seen at first hand, the value that this effort provides in the chain of preventative protection measures and in line with the conservation imperative of the WLS, it is our intention to keep the Priority Species Monitoring unit as a permanent element of the interaction with the protected areas in which we are privileged to provide trails. To that end, we continue to appeal for funding for this initiative.
As our trails start to pick up as anticipated towards the 2nd quarter of this year, we will be in a position to direct a portion of trail fees to this endeavour in line with our historical structure but in the meanwhile, we appeal to all who have experienced the wonders of wilderness to assist us and our colleagues to ensure that the integrity of the wilderness remains replete with the species that make it what it is…….. but perhaps a parallel imperative is to beat this scourge of poaching and illegal wildlife trade for the injustice and audacity and greed that it represents to all!