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    Poaching in one form or another has been a scourge in the history of the reserve since before its proclamation. From the time the Board regained control of the reserve in 1953, to the present day, it has been engaged in an endless battle with those who see the area merely as a source of free meat.

    Up until the early nineties, poaching activity was concentrated on the shooting or snaring of animals for meat. Recently however, an additional dimension has been added to the poaching problem in the Zululand reserves. With the proliferation of modern high-powered assault rifles, which have been smuggled into the country, and the knowledge that ready cash can to be obtained on the black market for rhino horn and elephant tusks, the poachers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and brazen in their sorties into game reserves after these animals. Ezemvelo Wildlife has had to introduce new strategies in order to tackle the problem.

    In the early 1950s the problem was a relatively straightforward one - how to stay one jump ahead of poachers using relatively unsophisticated poaching techniques, catch them, charge them and frustrate their poaching efforts. As early as September 1952, when Ian Player was working in the Nxwala State Lands and before the Board regained official control of Mkhuze, he reported that he was after farmers poaching in the area at night. In another incident around the same time, Ranger Hennie van Schoor saw an African's dogs chasing a common duiker. He arrested the poacher and shot the two dogs. The culprit was fined £3 or 2 weeks imprisonment.

    In those early years, many of the white farmers from the Lower Mkhuze area to the south of the reserve, particularly those with grazing rights on the Nxwala State Lands, made regular forays into the state lands and the southern portion of the reserve. They were after animals and, with the help of spotlights they shot anything that moved at night. Many black residents from the Makatini Flats, across the Mkhuze River and living in the foothills of the Lebombo Mountains also regularly entered Mkhuze and either hunted with dogs inside the reserve or set wire snares in the thick vegetation bordering the river.

    The wire snares used for hunting were particularly cruel. Any animals caught in them would either die a slow death from strangulation at the site of the snare, or would fight to free itself, often tearing the snare loose from the tree or bush to which it was tied. In its frantic struggle to free itself, the snare would cut deeply into the flesh usually around the leg or hoof. If the animal was successful in breaking free it was destined for prolonged suffering and agony before it finally died from its wounds. One victim luckier than the rest was a mature impala doe that was caught, together with her young lamb in the Mlambamude area on 12 March 1964, during the annual impala capture operation. On examining the animal it was found that it had been caught in a snare some months previously, but had managed to free itself. The snare had cut into the flesh around the leg, severing arteries and blood vessels, to the extent that the bottom half of the leg and hoof had rotted away and fallen off, leaving the bare stump of the leg bone. The snaring had taken place some considerable time before the animal was caught, for the stump of the leg bone that it was hobbling along on, had been worn down from constant use. Such are the amazing recuperative powers of these animals that not only had the doe survived her terrible injury, but was quite capable of moving around on her pegleg. The size of the young lamb captured with the injured impala indicated that it had been born after the doe was caught in the snare. How they both had managed to survive at all was a miracle but as they had managed to make it this far, we released them and left them  to their own devices.

    Rangers and guards in the reserve always had to try and stay one jump ahead of the poachers and staff had to get up very early and stay out late in their efforts to try to catch the culprits, both Black and White and it was an unceasing battle. It was standard technique for poachers to wait until it was getting dark before slipping over the river and into the reserve to set their snares. These were placed across game tracks leading through the riverine bush. The snares themselves were made from plaited lift cable of a type widely used on the cane farms. The thick plaits of cable would be unravelled to obtain the thinner plaits, each of which consisted of 6 to 8 strands, through which the other end of the snare was threaded. The larger noose would then be tied to a tree or bush next to the game track. The noose was held open with thin strips of bark or fibre tied to convenient branches next to the path. Any animal walking down the path was in danger of putting its head or sometimes a foot, if it were a low snare, into the noose. Feeling the restraint, it would try to pull itself free, so tightening the noose around its body.

    If caught around the neck, the animal's frantic struggles would cause death by strangulation, a death that, mercifully, was fairly rapid. When caught around the leg however, it would struggle to free itself, causing the snare to cut deeply into the flesh and the hapless creature would die a lingering and agonising death. Singie told me of an incident when one member of a poaching gang was literally "hoist with his own petard". Coming across a group of poachers in the reserve one day, he and the guards gave chase on foot. One luckless indivual ducked underneath a low bush and got himself caught around the throat by one of his own wire snares.

    During 1963, over 1500 snares were removed from various areas of the reserve and this number represents only a small percentage of the total number set. The length of the river boundary along which most of the snares were set, made our task of controlling poaching by this method a very difficult one. Many snares were set and removed by hunters, before being discovered. We frequently discovered old snaring sites during the course of our patrols, where bits of grass tied to thorn bushes, showed where snares had been set and removed. Monthly reports submitted by rangers over the years have regularly recorded the cruelty and suffering that the snares caused.

    The author in Mkhuze during the sixties, demonstrates how the snares are set

    One such report describes the discovery of a blue wildebeest that was snared above the knee. The snare had cut down to the bone and, when discovered, the unfortunate animal tried to get away, dragging the thorn tree to which the snare was tied, before it could be destroyed. Impala, inyala, bushbuck and blue wildebeest are the usual victims of these traps, but occasionally rarer mammals such as suni antelope and black rhino are caught. One poacher arrested in the reserve in 1962 had six suni skins in his possession.

    After Mkhuze reverted back to the Board there were only 8 guards in the reserve, three of whom were based at the Mantuma headquarters. Despite the recent activities of the Nagana campaign, snaring was prevalent. In his report for September 1954 Singie states that "the reserve is 105 square miles in extent and each field guard has 21 square miles to patrol, there were 17 guards here in Nagana times". October 1954 saw 2 Africans being prosecuted for having huts and fields in the reserve. By May 1956, new developments in snaring techniques were recorded with local Africans setting their snares in the Ndunakazi area on moonlit nights, along well-defined game trails, and then driving game towards them.

    On 17 September 1956, the month that Singie reported that the reserve was cleared of illegal residents, a black rhino cow was discovered that had been snared near the newly constructed Vulture Pan. This was the first recorded snaring of this species. The animal was snared around the left leg, slightly above the knee. The snare had cut into the flesh, almost to the bone as a result of the animal's desperate struggles to free itself and the lower portion of the leg was only being held by sinews. Singie reported that, in addition to the snare, the rhino had several gaping wounds in the shoulder and right leg, presumably caused by the animal's frantic efforts to free itself before it died. It can be left to the imagination as to the pain and suffering that the poor creature endured before finally succumbing to its wounds. Some broken pieces of steel wire were found in the wound and a foetus was recovered from the snared animal that was eventually sent to the University of Natal. The snared foreleg was removed from the animal and shown to the magistrate and his staff at Ubombo, to graphically bring home, the horrors of snaring.

    Singie records an incident, associated with this unhappy event. "A very touching scene was witnessed in the late afternoon, when the grown calf made a visit to the carcass of its dead mother. The youngster stole up to nose her body. The smell of the opened carcass apparently upset the calf, which walked around it with all caution. It is strange that the calf left the carcass at all after the cow was snared for, as a rule, they will remain and fight anything attempting to go near.

    The story has an interesting sequel. In November 1962 Singie wrote "it is interesting to record that a young black rhino - the calf of the animal snared some years ago, whose foetus was sent to Pietermaritzburg - has made its habitat close to headquarters. It has been seen in the area of the new camp on several occasions. Animal has no fear of people and will pass within a few yards of one. On the 13th, an extremely hot day, Ranger Gush and a friend were having lunch outside his hut when "Mabuya Duze"(Come Close) as the animal is now called, walked within 15 yards of where Gush was sitting and proceeded to the small dam where my cattle drink. The cattle were at the pan and the rhino mingled with them contentedly, the cattle displaying neither fear nor curiosity of the great beast. Spoor of up to three rhino has been noted at the drinking pan, no doubt introduced to the spot by "Mabuya Duze".

    In September 1956, Singie received another report of a snaring that had recently been done by one of the local residents. He recorded that "in consequence of this report a trip was made to native reserve 13. Mpolwana informed me that the head of the kraal was drinking in the mealie lands and, as I approached the group the natives dispersed in all directions. The women discarded their blankets in their haste to get away and by the time they disappeared into the long reeds, some bare backsides were visible. Most amusing!" 

    The incidence of poaching within the reserve continued to increase and this unsatisfactory situation prevailed until March 1957, when authority was obtained to employ an additional 5 guards, bringing the total up to 13. A month after the additional guards were employed in Mkhuze, the Ndawana guard camp was burnt down. Arson was suspected and investigations finally led to a local resident, Nkantolo Ndimande who admitted to the deed because of his arrest some months previously for selling snares.  Following a trip to Pietermaritzburg eighteen months later to plead his case, Singie was given authority by the Director in September 1958 to employ additional 6 guards, bringing the total game guard force in the reserve up to 19. Despite these additions to the guard force, snaring continued unabated. A report for June 1958 records the discovery of an Inyala, which was found snared around both back legs and which had to be destroyed.

    In February 1958, Singie recorded how one of his guards, Monewa Myeza, had a narrow escape from death while out on patrol. Coming across a party of poachers, one of who was armed with an assegaai, Monewa tried to arrest him. The poacher lunged at him with his assegaai, which passed through Monewa's tunic just under the heart but fortunately only grazing him slightly. An unusual report for September of that year was of a hunting party being apprehended on Nxwala, which comprised of a male and 4 females. The man was arrested at his kraal. He and his "girlfriends" were charged appeared in court, where four of them were fined £5 or 5 weeks. One of those apprehended was a minor girl who was cautioned and discharged. It was not only poachers that the game guards had brushes with. Travelling to Mkhuze village on the station bicycle in April 1958, Game Guard Mnyaisa Nyawu was stopped by a stopped by a Black constable and ticketed for not having a white reflector on the front of his bike. Singie paid the admission of guilt fine of 10/- and mentioned in his repoirt for the month that "other stations should be warned accordingly".

    The anti-poaching activities of the fifties did have its humorous side. In February 1958, game guards on patrol along the Mkhuze River encountered a poacher on his way out of the reserve. They gave chase and, as they approached, their quarry dived into a thorny tangle of vegetation on the riverbank, to escape them. The guards could see that he was entangled in the thorns and, as they made they made their way gingerly towards him. Seeing the guards approach, the poacher rapidly divested himself of his shorts and hat, which he left caught in the thorns, and made good his escape.

    In September of the same year, Game Guard Mnyaisa Nyawu reported to Singie that he and Mqolosi Gumede had arrested Banoi Jobe the previous night on a poaching charge for which he had been wanted for some time. The guards returned to their camp with their prisoner and the following morning started preparing themselves to take him to Mantuma, before going on to the charge office at Ubombo. Mnyaisa went into his hut to change into his uniform, whilst Mqolosi prepared to do the same, keeping Banoi under supervision from his hut door. While Mqolosi was pulling on his shorts, Banoi made a bolt for it and Mqolosi was literally caught with his pants down, neither being able to get them on or off! His shouts to Mnyaisa only spurred Banoi to greater speed and he escaped into the bush, much to Mqolosi's disgust. Banoi, who was small-boned, managed to remove the handcuffs that had been placed around one arm. The following night these were delivered back to Mqolosi's door and left there in a broken condition. Singie reports that Mqolosi's remarks on the incident do not make good reading!  In July 1959 guards on patrol in the reserve heard the sound of dogs barking on the Nxwala State Lands and gave chase to a party of poachers. The guards had the tables turned on them though, when they in turn were chased by a black rhino, had to abandon their pursuit and scramble into trees. The poachers escaped but the guards did achieve a certain amount of success in that they recovered 42 snares and an assegaai.

    Accusations and counter-accusations in many of the early poaching cases were often very convoluted. Another case involving Monewa Myeza in 1959 centred on an accusation that he had framed one of the local inhabitants and he was required to appear at the tribal court. Singie Denyer graphically described the scene that he experienced when he went to the tribal court. "One of the highlights of my life was experienced on the 6th of April 1959, when a request was made for me to attend a tribal court to give evidence in favour of game guard Monewa Myeza. It was held in the open at the Sidhlele Dipping Tank - Chief Mabandhlele presiding. The case arose out of the fact that one, Fusi Twala, who resides on the Makatini, spread a rumour that game guard Monewa had informed residents that he intended killing an impala and placing the carcass near Fusi's kraal. He would then hide near the spot. When Fusi came to remove the carcass, Monewa would arrest Fusi as a poacher.

    Monewa resented this accusation and claimed damages for defamation of character from Fusi, through Chief Mabandhlele's court. The court consisted of eight Indunas as advisers to the Chief, one secretary with Chief Mabandhlele presiding. Ringed around the court were firstly, the older men of the tribe. Several depths of younger men stood on the outskirts of the crowd, together with the women and children: possibly more than 300 spectators in all. The court was the most democratic event that one could experience and the case took several hours. Anyone was entitled to question witnesses, the complainant or the accused and many of the questions were most humorous, causing bursts of laughter, which were silenced by Chief Mabandhlele's threat to fine one and all present £5 for contempt of court! The case was finally concluded with Monewa winning the day and being awarded £5 or a beast as damages, plus costs which amounted to £2-10-0 for the Chief and 10/- for other charges"

    The life of a game guard was a dangerous and arduous one and the story of the exploits and adventures of the small band of brave men who formed the game guard force still needs to be fully told. They formed the vanguard of the Board's struggle to secure our reserves. Their lives were often in danger and they were expected to work long hours, often under very difficult conditions. The living quarters of the guards were not of the most comfortable. The 9 guard camps positioned around the periphery of the reserve each consisted of 3 concrete rondawels with thatched roofs - one for each guard. A door and small window secured with a wooden shutter supplied the ventilation and ablution facilities were minimal, with the guards having to wash in a basin. Water had to be carted to all the camps in 44-gallon drums, which stood outside in the blazing sun. When they ran out of water one of the guards would have to walk or, after 1962 when bicycles were issued to all the camps, cycle to Mantuma to report the matter. A couple of drums would then be loaded onto the back of a Landrover, filled with water and taken to the camp. Paraffin lamps were the only source of lighting and it was only towards the end of 1958, following a request from Singie, that torches were issued to the guards.

    Notwithstanding their primitive living conditions, the guards were generally good-humoured and loyal. They were proud of their position in the hierarchy of the reserve; the ultimate honour for many a young labourer was to be offered the position of a game guard in the reserve. The guards were always expected to be cleanly and smartly dressed on pay-days and, to their credit, most of them managed to achieve this.

     For protection they were armed with .303 Lee-Enfield rifles, many of which dated back to the First World War- I remember seeing the date "1918" on one of them. Relief Ranger Terry Oatley recorded in his report for July 1958 that " not a single rifle is to be relied on. Barrels are so worn that it is a continuing source of amazement that anything could be hit".

    The rifles, which had only been re-barrelled once in 17 years, were not only there for protection but also had to provide the guards with their meat ration. Every cartridge, which was issued, had to be accounted for, the empty cartridge cases had to be produced and the use of each cartridge justified. A guard camp was allowed two bullets a week with which to shoot their ration of a wildebeest and if they were unsuccessful in getting their animal, they would have to go without meat for the week. The guards therefore took great care in stalking their animal and only fired at it when they were confident that they could bring it down. In the sixties, through to the early seventies there was no radio contact with the camps and it was one of our duties to make regular inspection visits to all the camps, to check on conditions there and to work with the guards. The Wives of guards were not permitted to stay with them and domestic affairs had to be conducted during their short breaks from duty. All staff, guards and rangers alike, were effectively on call 24 hours a day and were allowed 66 hours away from our stations per month. 

    In the sixties, poaching started to become very prevalent on pay-days at the end of the month. Local inhabitants had come to realise that the guards would all be at Mantuma to receive their wages and then spend the rest of the afternoon doing their purchases for the month at Mkhuze village. A system of staggered pay dates was then introduced to counter this problem. Guards who would be away for the day were replaced by staff from other areas, thereby ensuring that there would always be an adequate guard force in the area at all times.

    The new guard camp at Magebugane was completed in December 1958 while another at Ndawana was under construction. Shortly after the completion and staffing of the new guard camps a joint anti-poaching operation was organised with the staff of the Ndumu Game Reserve. Night shooting had been on the increase and shots had been heard in the reserve the night before the Ndumu staff arrived. A whole day was spent watching the tracks leading out of the reserve and State Lands, but to no avail - the birds had flown.

    Around this time, the Board concentrated on improving its anti-poaching strategy. Nick van Niekerk, the Ranger-in-Charge of False Bay Park designed new concrete guard huts with thatched roofs, which were to be a considerable improvement on the previous accommodation. These were built at the new camps that were to be established at Udiza, Qakweni, Nsumu and Gwambane, where work on them started in October 1959. The Mlambamude camp was built in March 1960. Immediately following the completion of these new camps, authority was received to employ 8 additional guards. These were all selected from ex-Nagana staff, ensuring that the men selected had a good knowledge of the areas in which they were to work. An indication of the success achieved by the anti-poaching campaign is reflected in the number of snares recovered and destroyed. In August 1960 over 600 wire noose snares made from cable fencing were removed from within the reserve, burnt and buried. Infiltration into the game reserve during 1960 was a recurring problem, with mealie fields being discovered next to the Msunduzi river in the Mpila hill area and six huts found within the boundaries of the reserve, during a routine patrol to the top of Umkhombe hill.

      A constant thorn in our sides too was the periodic nocturnal poaching incursions into the reserve and State Lands by certain white farmers living in the Lower Mkhuze area. One of the minor successes that we achieved  was the capture and conviction of one of the culprits who was sentenced to a fine of £50 or 6 months imprisonment. His Landrover was also confiscated. In November 1960 the assistance of the S.A. Police was called on to raid the home of a local farmer in the Ngwenja area, following a tip-off that he had been seen poaching on Nxwala.  The farmer concerned was very aggressive and would not allow us to inspect his storage shed where, we had been told, a large number of game skins were being stored. On arrival at his farm he came up to the passenger side window of our Landrover and said in no uncertain terms "Boetie,dis nie jou plaas nie, dis nie Peter Potter se plaas nie en dis nie Colonel Vincent se plaas nie - en jy sit nie 'n voet op my plaas nie" (It's not your farm, it's not Peter Potter's farm, and it's not Colonel Vincent's farm and you're not putting a foot on my farm). We had no option but to request the police sergeant, who was accompanying us, to carry out the inspection on our behalf. He returned to say that he had found the farm shed full of game skins. We unfortunately had no success with our prosecution though as the farmer maintained that he had always been an ardent nature conservationist. The skins in his shed, he maintained, had come from animals that he had discovered in snares on his farm!

     Around this time some white farmers in the area started to change their poaching tactics. Their idea was to avoid having to use the roads and run the risk of being stopped at the roadblocks that we set up whenever we heard gunshots or vehicles moving around the reserve at night. The hunters had started coming into the reserve on foot, they would shoot an animal and use a horse or donkey to carry the meat out. It was a difficult task trying to stay one jump ahead of the ungodly! By February 1961 guard camps had been established around the periphery of the reserve and we had camps at Nsumu, Qakweni, Mlambamude, Mpila, Nhlabeni, Gwambane, Udiza, Magebugane and Mtshopi as well as our central guard force at Mantuma.

     There was a considerable amount of poaching on the Makatini Flats as well. On the evening of 8 June 1961, we became aware of poachers operating on the flats and Singie, Khonjwayo, Mnyaisa and I set off to try and apprehend them. By the time we got onto the flats we had to navigate without lights, following the torches that we could see shining in the sky and guided only by the depth of the tracks in the sandy soil. As we approached the intersection of the jeep track from the reserve with the road to Sordwana Bay, the poachers must have heard our vehicle approach, for the torches suddenly went out. We took up a position near the main road, expecting to intercept the poachers' vehicle, which we calculated, was to the east of our position. After waiting for several hours in the bitterly cold wind we decided to call it a day and return home. As we started a normal conversation again, we heard a clatter of boots not 30 metres from the Landrover and the shouted warning " PasOp - Wildwagters!"(Look-out, Game Rangers!). We gave chase, but the poachers got away from us in the long grass and thicket. We were all disappointed to have missed catching them but took a certain amount of comfort from the fact that there were no further reports of lights or poaching from the Makatini for some months after the incident.

    The dull routine of our anti-poaching activities, which involved foot patrols through the reserve, trips to the charge office at Ubombo and endless appearances in court did have its more unusual and lighter moments though. In October 1961 a poacher wearing a cardboard mask was seen by game guard John Sibiya in the Gwambane area. The guards gave chase but unfortunately they lost their quarry who managed to escape into the thick riverine bush. They did manage to retrieve the rather strange cardboard mask that he was wearing which had served its purpose in keeping the wearer incognito. The mask was brought in to our office, where Mahukwana obligingly put it on and posed for a photograph.

    In another humorous incident, a regular old poacher, Maclibane Myeni was caught poaching in 1962 for the umpteenth time. At his court appearance he made an unusual appeal to the presiding magistrate. Poaching had been much of a way of life for Maclibane and on many of his forays into the game reserve, the guards regularly caught him as he was incapable of running away from them: he had been born with a deformed foot which slowed him down considerably. On the occasion of his trial, after the game guards' evidence had been heard, Maclibane was asked by the magistrate if he had anything to say in his defence, before sentence was passed.

    "Yes" said Maclibane, "I do have some thing to say". He pointed out to the magistrate that he was tired of being regularly caught by the guards because of his deformed foot. He felt that he was responsible for a lot of inconvenience to the Board, in that he regularly had to be taken to Ubombo and charged. Later there was also the expense and bother of the trial and, after sentencing, the burden on the State of having to house and feed him while he was in gaol. His needs were few, said Maclibane, all he wanted was a bit of meat occasionally. Could the court not consider allocating a small section of the game reserve to him where he could set his snares in peace and obtain a little meat from time to time, without being constantly harassed by the game guards. Everyone would benefit: he would not have to try to run away on his bad foot, the Board would be saved the expense and inconvenience of having to take him to the Ubombo or return to court later for the trial. The State would be spared the expense of having to keep him in prison! The magistrate was not sympathetic to his plea however and he got his usual sentence of a fine of £5 or one month's imprisonment for trespassing and £10 or 2 months imprisonment for snaring.

    During 1962, 109 poachers were arrested in the reserve and charged and the cases resulted in 78 convictions. During the same year, 1511 snares and 26 assegaais were collected and destroyed and 42 dogs were shot. A muzzleloader and a .22 hornet rifle were confiscated during one brush with poachers and the recovery of these firearms were the forerunner of a new threat that had started to emerge towards the end of 1962. It is one that has escalated to dangerous proportions today: the use of firearms by some of the local populace, for the hunting of game.

    As far back as February 1959, Ranger Tony Pooley reported that Isiah Tabeta had been arrested in his hut at close to midnight. A Martini-Henry rifle and 7mm Mauser rifle, both stolen, were recovered and later the police recovered an additional shotgun. In September 1963 a poacher was caught with a home-made firearm of ingenious construction. No one was anxious to try to discharge it as it appeared to be designed to inflict more damage on the user that on its intended victim. In my report for that month I wrote "an African was arrested near Magebugane in the reserve on 15 September 1963 with a home-made firearm. What the instrument lacked in range and knockout power was compensated for in the ingenuity of its construction. The stock of the gun was hand-carved from a piece of indigenous wood and was fitted with the barrel and ram-rod from a "voorlaaier", the barrel being secured onto the stock by means of small metal plates and nails. The detonating mechanism was a six-inch nail entering the end of the barrel through a small hole drilled into the stock. A piece of rubber inner tubing was tied around the head of a 4-inch nail and the rubber was secured on either side of the stock of the barrel with additional small nails. To cock the rifle, the nail was pulled back, stretching the pieces of rubber tubing, causing the nail to act as a firing pin when released."

    "Obviously conscious of the firearm act, the maker of the gun had fitted a safety catch to it! This consisted of a piece of string tied to the end of the "firing pin" to which a small piece of wood had been secured. When the rubber bands holding the firing pin were stretched and the firearm "cocked" the piece of wood was looped around another nail hammered into the butt of the gun to prevent the nail from striking home. To complete the appearance of the weapon, a trigger guard and trigger from a "voorlaaier" and a brass keyhole cover had been nailed onto the stock for their decorative effect. When we questioned the poacher about the workings of the device we were told that the gun was loaded with pieces of wire and small bits of metal and that the charge was made up of matchstick heads. When its owner was arrested, the rifle was loaded and cocked and it was with a fair amount of trepidation that it was conveyed in that state to the charge office at the Ubombo. On arrival at the police station the poacher was taken to an open clearing on the crest of the hill and instructed to discharge his firearm, which he duly did. This produced a cloud of white smoke and little else"!

    The story of the home-made firearm appears as little more than an interesting diversion when compared with the proliferation of high-powered automatic rifles being smuggled into the country and used for the poaching of game, especially rhino in the Zululand game reserves today. This is a development that has steadily escalated over the years and is now one that presents a serious threat to the sanctity of the Zululand reserves.

    Although all the incidents of snaring which we encountered were distasteful, the most horrendous ones were those involving the snaring of black rhino. In September 1956, Singie reported that "a rhino cow that had previously been reported injured, died on the 17th September near the newly constructed dam beyond headquarters. The rhino was found to have been snared around the left leg slightly above the knee. The snare had cut into the flesh almost to the bone; in fact the lower portion of the leg was merely hanging on by sinews. Several gaping wounds on the shoulder and right foreleg were no doubt caused by the animal struggling to free itself from the snare. Some broken pieces of steel wire were found in the wound. This animal must have died a cruel death. The animal was found to be in calf and the foetus was removed and preserved in formalin. A touching scene was witnessed in the late afternoon after our discovery of the snared animal, when the grown calf made a visit to the carcass of its dead mother. The youngster approached cautiously and nosed the body and walked around it carefully as the smell of the opened carcass seemed to upset it. It is strange that the calf left the carcass at all for, as a rule, they will remain and fight anything attempting to go near it. This is the first time that a rhino has been known to have been snared in this area". In July 1959, another black rhino was snared in the Qakweni area, but managed to tear itself free from the snare. The animal was never found so Singie had no knowledge of the extent of its injuries. Other animals were not so fortunate.

    In November 1960 a three-year-old rhino was found dead in the Mkhuze Riverbed, 6km east of Headquarters. In its frantic efforts to free itself the snare had cut down deeply into the animal's neck. It finally managed to break free and make its way down into the riverbed, where it died. In his monthly report Singie wrote "the wound around the neck was sad to see and the pain and suffering that the animal endured can only be left to the imagination, when one considers that the entire flesh between the hump and the head was a gaping wound around 9 inches wide. In fact the neck was all but severed from the body and how the animal reached even as far as the river is a mystery. Ranger Gush was able to take some photographs of the carcass and, when printed, should give an excellent idea of the wound caused by the snare".

    The snared black rhino lying in the Mkhuze Riverbed




    In August 1963, I was involved in a second black rhino snaring incident. This one fortunately had a happier ending than the previous one. A game guide who was busy conducting a party of tourists around the reserve, arrived back at camp late in the afternoon and reported seeing a black rhino in the Magwaza area, with a snare around its neck. The animal had managed to free itself from the bush that the snare was tied to, but its efforts to do so had caused the snare to cut into the neck. It had obviously only been caught a day or two before as it was still in reasonable condition, apart from its wound. It was noted though that it was not feeding. Guards were dispatched to the area immediately. They were able to locate the animal and keep it under observation, approaching fairly close to it from the leeward side. Through binoculars it was possible to establish that the snare had cut deeply into the flesh around the neck and along the top of the head, in places up to 100mm deep.

    Four game guards were detailed to remain in the vicinity during the night and they would work in teams of two, their task being to keep the animal under observation. In the meantime a request for assistance was sent to the rhino-capture team at Umfolozi. It was arranged that Ranger Ken Rochat from Umfolozi would arrive the next day with the "Operation Rhino" truck, capture guns and the necessary drugs to anaesthetise the animal. When we met up with the two guards that were monitoring the movement of the snared rhino the following morning, we learnt, to our dismay, that contact with the animal had been lost during the night. All efforts on the part of the guards to re-track it had been unsuccessful. There were numerous other rhino in the area that had left spoor and it was impossible to tell one spoor from another. All the reserve's guards and the whole labour force was assembled and transported to the area. From there they were sent out in pairs, in all directions, to try and locate the injured animal. A thorough search that a small group of us did of the area was unsuccessful and we returned to our rendezvous at mid-day to await the return of the other search parties. During the course of the afternoon, groups of searchers returned, all of who reported negative results. 

    The afternoon wore on and Ken had to return to Umfolozi the next day. He expressed doubts that even if the rhino was located that afternoon, that there would be enough time to track it, dart it, follow the animal and load it before it got dark. By 15:00 only one party of guards was still out and our hopes of saving the rhino were receding rapidly. As we were preparing to return to camp, the last of the search parties returned and announced that the rhino had been seen in the thick Mahlala bush and that two of its lying-up places, that showed signs of fresh blood, had been discovered. From then on things had to move rapidly. Loading up Ken, his catching equipment, and the two guards we set off to find the rhino. As it was fairly open in that particular area, it was possible to manoeuvre the Landrover through the bush to where the rhino had last been seen. The animal was finally located and we were pleased to see that it had moved out of the bush, into open country and that it could be approached by vehicle. Ken prepared the drug-filled dart to be fired from the gas-powered capture gun from a range of not more than 30 metres and Adriaan Erasmus, Ken and I set off in pursuit. We approached the rhino very cautiously at first, so as not to alarm it and manoeuvred the Landrover behind the animal. As it started moving off we accelerated and careered across the veld after it. The terrain was rough with a lot of low thorn scrub, but we could give no thought to scratched mudguards or minor dents. It was after 16:00 and getting late. We were only going to get one shot at the animal and, if the dart missed, there would be no second chance and the animal would be sure to die within the next few days.

    The rhino cantered along in front of the truck as we bucketed up behind it to get within range. Ken fired and the dart smacked into the rhino's rump and stayed there - a perfect shot, but there was still the possibility that the dart could malfunction and that the drug would not be injected. That was in the hands of the Gods. The rhino made for a patch of thick bush and, leaving the Landrover some distance away, we followed up on foot. The animal had gone into fairly heavy scrub and we were able to approach and watch it. After about 20 minutes it showed signs of becoming unsteady on its feet and was staggering and crashing into trees. We knew then that the anaesthetic was working. In its groggy state we were able to creep up behind it and get a rope around one of its back legs. This was secured to a tree to prevent the animal from moving into thicker bush, where it would be impossible to load it. After a further 10 minutes it lay down, completely anaesthetised, and breathing heavily.

    The snare was cut off with a hacksaw blade and removed, the wound disinfected and packed with sulpha drugs and an anti-biotic injection administered. The rhino-catching truck was brought up and the crate, with its door open, was off-loaded and placed in front of the sleeping rhino. Once everything was lined up, an injection of the antidote to the anaesthetic was given, and the result was almost instantaneous - the rhino got up and staggered towards the open crate. Before giving the injection, Ken had tied a rope around the rhino's muzzle and this had been threaded through a hole in the front of the crate, to help guide the animal into it. With much pulling on the rope and shouting and heaving, the staff managed to get the animal to enter the crate and the door was closed. A power winch, operating off the drive shaft, pulled the crate onto the back of the truck, the rollers were loaded and Ken and the rhino were on their way back to Umfolozi. Loading time had taken 25 minutes - our race against time was over. As darkness fell we loaded up ropes, catching equipment, and the work force onto our Landrovers and headed wearily back to camp. At Umfolozi, a qualified veterinarian would stitch up the rhino's wounds and administer to its other needs. In time, the animal was moved to the Ndumu Game Reserve as a mate for the solitary bull already there. 

    Two years later, in November 1965, another snared rhino was discovered in the reserve and darted, but the animal had such severe injuries that it had to be destroyed.

    In September 1966 there was yet another rhino snaring incident. Ranger Mike Behr received a report from the guards of a young black rhino male that had been discovered with a snare around its neck, which had lacerated it badly. It had been seen lying in the mud at Mbanyana pan but when Mike arrived at the pan with the guards, the young bull and its mother had already left for a patch of dense bush to the north. His report reads "I followed the tracks until it became dark and for the following three days Rangers Tinley, Sterling and I combed the area very thoroughly. On the morning of September 28, Ranger Sterling located the animals in a spot where photography was impossible. We did, however, establish that the wound was so severe that it would never heal. I approached to about 10 yards and shot the injured animal. At this point the fun started. The cow was very alert and obviously very bad tempered. Rangers Tinley and Sterling photographed the animal as best they could between charges. At one stage Ranger Tinley was up a tree, which would normally bend with the weight of a sparrow, photographing the tossing head of the infuriated cow not two feet away from his legs. Time and again the cow would return to her dead calf. After about an hour she trotted away in disgust. Looking at the wound on the dead rhino's neck we found a wire snare a 1/4 inch thick, that had cut right through to the spinal cord. The wound was at least 10 inches wide and badly infected".

    An unusual poaching incident occurred in the eastern section of the reserve towards the end of 1966. This was the discovery of a dead impala at the side of a tourist road that had been shot a few minutes previous to its discovery. There were indications that a tourist could have done this, as there were tyre tracks from a sedan car leading up to and away from the carcass. No tourist reported the incident to the camp office, strengthening the suspicion that the animal could have been shot by a visitor, who had to abandon it before it could be loaded and carted away.

    Another gruesome death involved the snaring of a zebra, the remains of which were found in the Udiza area. In this case the snare was attached to a log which the poor animal dragged around for some time before death mercifully stepped in and ended what must have been a terrible suffering.  In his report for January 1970, Ranger Herman Bentley reports having to destroy a blue wildebeest discovered during a routine patrol. The unfortunate animal had two snares around its neck and one on a back leg, just above the hoof. The hoof was half rotted away and the animal was walking on the stump of the leg.

    The introduction of horses to the reserve in 1964 saw a change in the Board's anti-poaching operations, which now were extended beyond the boundaries of the reserve. Nineteen seventy saw the installation of a radio mast at Mantuma and the acquisition of 4 two-way radio sets which were positioned at some of the guard camps. A further refinement was the introduction of a mobile poaching patrol in the seventies, which operated in the Lower Mkhuze area, utilising rangers from the Umfolozi and Hluhluwe Game Reserves. This put an end to the long-standing problem of night shooting that had been prevalent in that area for many years. The mobile guard patrol system was extended to the reserve as well in 1976, but it was not to prove a success. In 1975 there were 10 guard camps around the periphery of the reserve and by 1978, this had been reduced to four. In every case where guard camps were closed or amalgamated to form mobile patrols, there was an immediate increase in poaching.

    On questioning captured poachers on whether they were concerned about the mobile patrols, the unanimous response was that they were not, and that they merely considered it to be bad luck if they bumped into one! It soon became apparent that poachers regarded the areas around the old established guard camps as the game guards' permanent territory and they were far less anxious to wander into this "territory" than to take their chances with the mobile guard force. In April 1978, Warden Drummond Densham decided to revert to the old system. He planned to up-grade and re-establish 7 outposts around the boundaries of the reserve, thereby vindicating Singie's original concept of having strategically-placed guard camps, with over-lying areas of coverage.

    In the last 15 years the activities of poachers have become very much more sophisticated. Poaching with wire snares is still prevalent and a major problem in the reserve, but there is now a new dimension to the problem. The proliferation of illicit firearms pouring into the country from neighbouring states and the realisation that rhino horn is a valuable commodity has led to occasional armed incursions into the reserve. The horror of finding a black rhino with its neck half severed by a snare has now been replaced by the possibility of discovering an animal, shot with an AK47, which has had its horn chopped off. The Board's guards themselves are now armed with automatic weapons and are in the forefront of an endless battle to stop such illegal incursions.

    Concerted efforts were made some years ago to involve the local community in the reserve's conservation activities and this policy has finally started to bear fruit. In 1980, one of the local Chiefs in the area, Chief Jobe, proposed the establishment of a guard force to operate in tribal lands and this force was reasonably successful at the time in its efforts to control poaching. The emphasis today though is concentrated on education and community involvement in the affairs of the reserve. A programme has been initiated to try and convince those living around the reserve that the preservation of Mkhuze and its wildlife is in their interest and can work to their own advantage. Part of the revenue generated by visitors to Mkhuze is now channelled back into projects that benefit their whole community. The goal is to get the reserve's neighbours to realise that they have an asset here, which can improve their lives through the creation of job opportunities, tourism and the selective utilisation of some of the reserve's resources.

    Let us hope that the long tide of poaching in Mkhuze may soon turn.