Field rangers work as a team and sometimes as a family, but it takes individual resolve to resume the daily challenges of patrolling and defending the park.
There’s a quiet, steely and highly focused resolve, a brand of acute determination that is at once thrilling and calming. Perhaps it is the look in their eyes, or the weapons they wield. It might very well be their peak mental and physical condition.
“Fourteen days. That is the length of time a special ranger can be deployed in the bush. With ad-hoc support to refuel rations and water, special rangers are routinely deployed for three, five or seven days depending on the mission criteria”
Judicious use of supplies may extend a set of rations for up to two days. Hydration, however, remains a challenge, particularly in the harsh lowveld environment where summer temperatures average 32°C peaking at 40°C.
Constantly on the move, exposed to fierce predators, other wild animals and the risk of contact situations with poachers, the special ranger is a one-of-a-kind operational resource. They possess a level of compassion and an understanding of the human condition that may seem out of place in these circumstances.
Elsewhere in the bush, day or night and often both, other rangers and their K-9 units scour the bush, tracking spoor and operating on incursion reports and various other forms of intelligence. The scenarios they engage are highly unpredictable and often volatile. Their objective is simple; apprehend the suspects with minimal loss of human and animal lives.
“It is a race against time, and all too often, a race that is lost as they arrive at a (crime) scene dressed with the blood and mutilated remains of yet another rhino”
Further up the chain of command, the section ranger must keep a finger pressed firmly against the pulse. A responsibility that ultimately determines the integrity of their section of the park. The Kruger National Park has 22 sections, with each section covering slightly less than 900,000 square kilometers. While the section ranger is a leadership role, it is by no means an oversight role, as section rangers operate alongside rangers whenever the need arises.
It is easy to imagine these individuals as soldiers; instruments of a military response to an enemy offensive. One is readily drawn to focus on the tactical features of their presence in the park. It is important though to recognize that the ranger corps is a committed, highly skilled and knowledgeable group of men and women that are true conservationists at heart.
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