A war to protect a species

On the eve of World Rhino Day, a new book goes behind the scenes of a war to protect a species

Australian author and Afghanistan veteran Tony Park has teamed up with a retired South African general to release Rhino War, the true story of the hard-fought battle to protect endangered rhinos.

The book has been released to coincide with World Rhino Day, September 22.

Tony, who divides his time between a flat in Sydney and a home on the edge of the Kruger National Park – described as the ‘Ukraine’ of the fight to save the rhino – co-wrote ‘Rhino War’ with Major General Johan Jooste, who was parachuted into the seemingly unwinnable war on poaching in 2012.

“With an average of three rhinos being killed for their horns per day – more than 1,000 per year – General Jooste was appointed as Chief Ranger of the Kruger Park with orders to slow the ‘runaway train’ of poaching,” Tony said.

Aged 60, white, and a veteran of the Apartheid era, Jooste was a controversial pick by South Africa’s African National Congress government, but his backers felt he was the best man to ‘go military’ in the fight to save the species.

“In Rhino War we see General Jooste taking over a force of 400 demoralised, poorly equipped and under-trained male and female rangers in the Kruger Park, trying to protect a game reserve the size of the country of Israel against sustained daily incursions by poachers.”

By formulating a strategy, recruiting the right people, forging alliances with private reserves to the west of the Kruger Park and with authorities in Mozambique to the East, Jooste slowly made headway.

Controversially, Jooste took to the world stage and raised millions of dollars from organisations and individuals, setting himself up as a tall poppy for those back home who resented his appointment.

With funding, training and hard work, General Jooste doubled the size of the South African National Parks air wing, adding two new helicopters and ultra-light aircraft, and oversaw a rapid expansion of the use of tracker dogs and cutting-edge technology.

Tony Park, the author of 20 thriller novels set in the African bush, including the Kruger Park, had written fiction about the war on poaching in the past, but was taken aback by the real-life intensity of the fight to save Africa’s rhinos.

“In Rhino War there are accounts of rangers, now better equipped and supported, flying into four separate gun battles with poachers in the space of one afternoon, and coming out on top every time.”

General Jooste’s time in command also saw a radical change in the way orphan baby rhinos were treated. Prior to his arrival, rhinos orphaned by poaching attacks were left to die in the bush, to be taken by predators. The policy was changed and today about 400 orphaned rhinos are growing to adulthood, with the prospect of being ‘re-wilded’.

Tony has also contributed in a small way to the fight to save Africa’s wildlife, by speaking at fundraising events, and pulling a couple of night shifts on the state of the art ‘Meerkat’ radar monitoring system. The Meerkat, a phenomenally successful piece of technology, was developed during General Jooste’s tenure and watches over large swathes of Kruger today.

The General and his newly invigorated corps of rangers were able to slow the runaway train in Kruger, with rhino deaths falling from 2015 onwards.

The problem of rhino poaching remains, however, with poachers constantly changing tactics and locations.

“As one part of Africa gets better at protecting its wildlife, poachers move to another. In the book we touch on the long-term solutions to fighting wildlife crime, including reducing demand, and dismantling the organised crime networks behind poaching,” Tony said.

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