The foot soldiers in the war against rhino poaching risk their lives every night. Preventing poachers from wiping the rhino off the face of Africa is a job for unsung heroes. Often, all they have are blisters to show for it.
They face questions from loved ones over the risky lives they lead. Last year, a lion dragged a sleeping anti-poaching officer from his bed under the stars and killed him.
It costs R20,000 ($1,900) a month for one unit, working as a two-man team.
They have to be quick. All it takes for a poacher to kill a rhino is an hour. In five hours, the horn can be over the border and on a plane. Anti-poaching officers are on high alert 24/7. All have military training. This is a taste of their hard lives, as private money comes into the game.
Sergeant Tumi Morema
It’s 2AM at the Thorny Bush Game Lodge. The off-road vehicle’s yellow headlights pierce the landscape. Sergeant Thumi Morema is at the wheel looking for poachers. The 33 year old comes from the community in the area surrounding the private big game farms. He remembers the day he made his first arrest.
“We were searching for an old man who was hunting with dogs. If we find poaching dogs we shoot them. We found his snares and set an ambush… we saw his dogs approaching under a tree we were sitting in. The old man stopped beneath us and started fixing the snares. I jumped out of the tree, went around and came up behind him. I touched him on the shoulder, he got such a fright. We tied him and his dogs up. This man had been hunting all his life and had never been caught. I’ve been hunting before. I called it hunting, you called it poaching. I call it poaching now,” he says.
Since then, he has caught more than 50 would-be poachers. Thirty six of them have been sentenced in court. According to Morema, only a few can cut it. Of the 42 men who trained with him, only two made it.
He has spent his adult life supporting his 18 family members after his older brother died. He says his community has ostracized him since going over to what they call ‘the white famers’ side’.