Tracking and patrolling by an anti-poaching team is a dedicated and skilful application of years of experience. This team works with the rangers of the Kruger National Park on the border with Mozambique to see that poachers’ exits and entrances can be used as an opportunity to see to their arrests.
Intensely patrolling a fence line for poacher’s tracks is part of the DAG team’s strategy of quick detection, quick reaction. The moment tracks are found, the operation room is notified by radio of the location. The chopper pilot, as well as the tracking dog and handler, will soon be on their way. In the meantime the tracks will be analysed.
“If the tracks make a zig-zag pattern into the veld, we know poachers are here to hunt. If they walk in a determined straight line they are on their way to the KNP to poach a rhino,” says Bam.
Time is of the essence. Poachers can cover the veld at a speed of four to five kilometres per hour. Once they are over the fence on their way to the Kruger every minute is vital.
The rangers on patrol immediately start tracking the poachers. Estimations are made of how many hours they are ahead.
Tracking on the terrain on the southern side of Mozambique is not all that easy. After the rain the sand can be hard and no clear imprint might be available to follow.
“A trained eye will spot sand moved underneath a rock or any slight indenture,” remarks Bam.
Poachers also jump from rock to rock to be untraceable. A tracking expert will, however, even be able to see how a loose rock moved in the sand.
“The trick to reading a track is to always position your body that you can see the shadows in the track. That means you must be able to look up from the track into the sun,” explains Bam.
Poachers often need to do 60 kilometres in three days. They carry bread and tinned fish as well as water bottles. These are often left behind once a rhino horn is removed.
Also left behind on their way in, are empty two litre bottles in which a muti mix is carried. These bottles will often be found with a small cloth. Before they take to climbing the fence, poachers would wash with this mix, believing it makes them invisible.
The poachers also knot cloth bands around their arms, bodies as well as their rifles. These are dipped in muti.
“Also carried and often found by trackers, a little tin of muti used like snuff,” notes Bam.
A typical poacher group would have a rifle handler and this member of the team would be carefully selected because he will carry a .458 and .375 rifle. The navigator would be someone who knows the park, has been in before and can also cope at night. The remaining member carries knives, axes, food and water.
One of the most important factors is reading the track so closely that the make and number of shoe the poacher wore can be identified. “It is what tracking is all about. Getting to the details and passing it on so an arrest can be made,” says Bam.