Rhino poachers’ worst enemy (South Africa)


Amanda Watson, The Citizen

Date Published

The new man at the helm as chief ranger in the Kruger National Park (KNP) grew up as a herdboy and used to hunt small game and birds using dogs or traps.

Former game ranger, park manager and university lecturer, Xolani Nicholus Funda, who was appointed shortly after news broke of 20 elephant slaughtered for their ivory in the flagship national park earlier this year, describes current levels of poaching as “frightening”.

With two years left on his contract, the park’s popular anti-poaching head, retired army major-general Johan Jooste has moved to SANParks’ head office on promotion to a strategic level position, SANParks said.

Jooste battled an ever-increasing influx of poachers into the park, which has experienced an increase in rhino killings from 425 at the end of 2012, when he took over, to 606 at the end of the next year and 827 at the end of 2014.

This year, Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa instituted a media blackout on poaching figures. But according to figures released by Molewa, 544 rhino were killed in KNP, as of August.

Funda was born in Zithathele at the Nyandeni local municipality in the Eastern Cape. “I grew up as a herdboy and used to hunt small game and birds,” he told Saturday Citizen.

After matriculating in 1989 from Upper Corana Senior Secondary School, he took up a Transkei government bursary to study towards a diploma in nature conservation at Fort Cox College in the former Ciskei. For the next five years, Funda worked for the Transkei department of agriculture and forestry and also received exposure to practical conservation at Dwesa Nature Reserve.

He had stints as assistant manager at Ongeluksnek Nature Reserve, manager of Thomas Baines Nature Reserve in Grahamstown and chief forester at Diepwalle State Forest in Knysna under the department of water affairs and forestry before spending two years in KNP as a section and district ranger.

Funda also spent time at Marakele National Park as manager before he became a lecturer in nature conservation at the Tshwane University of Technology, where he taught ecology, resource management and wildlife management. After all his years in the field and as an academic, one memory stands out for him.

“In 2002, I participated in an international seminar on protected areas organised by the universities of Idaho and Montana in the US,” Funda said. “It was here I learned most successes and failures in conservation management are human-driven.”

Calling the present high levels of poaching in the park “frightening”, Funda said his approach would complement that of Jooste, who will now be his boss.

“My approach is to control those elements of poaching the rangers can change, such as intensify antipoaching activities inside the park and intensify intelligence gathering,” he said.

He would also try and win community support through the implementation of community projects.

“Building community constituency is a slow process, but is the most important aspect of law enforcement,” he added. “Antipoaching effectiveness and efficiency will be achieved when all role players are committed and willing to collaborate to fight the rhino and elephant wars. These include rangers, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors and magistrates. Community support for antipoaching is the biggest role player.”

Funda said thast in the short term, a combination of the strategies he outlined and technology would complement his “human capital”.

The approach would be tweaked slightly to combat elephant poaching. “These losses are not as high as rhino losses, but they need attention, as poachers are switching to elephants when they cannot find rhinos,” noted Funda.

“In addition, conservation, veld, and general wildlife management and community engagement need some attention. Conservation management is not only about law enforcement, there are other important aspects that are also important towards achieving the conservation of biodiversity goals.”

Community engagement and opportunities for community beneficiation are also elbowing for space at the top of Funda’s priority list, which ultimately is headed by looking after his rangers.