My company, Scarlet Tactical, is on a mission to save South Africa’s endangered rhinoceros species.    Asian and Java rhino populations in the wild have been hunted to extinction.  Through training, I am determined to help stop the poaching of white and black rhinos, a precious natural resource to South Africa. We South African’s will not let our heritage be raped and murdered like the rest of the world’s.

Current estimates indicate that the remaining rhino populations in the wild include 20 405 white rhinos and 5,055 black rhinos;  85 % of these magnificent creatures still left on earth are found in South Africa.

Africa is a 3rd world continent with a great deal of unemployment.  Unemployed from all over the continent stream into South Africa.  Many countries, such as Mozambique, have been ravaged by war.  Poorly trained and equipped refugees cross the border in hopes of feeding their families.

Organized crime syndicates take advantage of this poverty and border-crossing activity. The lower-income Africans poach the rhino and sneak back across the border earning about $600 from the syndicates for the rhino horn they obtain  The illegal organized crime group can get up to $500 000 on the black market for the rhino horn, which is sold per gram.

Many cultures believe that rhino horn has magical qualities which can cure various ailments.  Some Vietnamese believe that it can cure cancer.  It is also snorted by Vietnamese who see it as a new designer drug.  In China, rhino horn is believed to be an aphrodisiac with the same properties as Viagra.

East African groups linked to Al Queda have been involved in rhino poaching to fund their terror operations in Sudan and Somalia. Funds from the sale of rhino horn may help fund Al Queda operations around the world.

Scarlett Tactical started training KZN Wildlife Anti-Poaching Teams and Rangers in August 2012. This first 2-day trial course evaluated and tested the force using Airsoft, the same system the US Army, Marines, and US law enforcement use to train and evaluate in simulated situations.  The Teams and Rangers were able to improve on their tactics under fire, in a non-lethal manner, so all mistakes could be rectified.

The trial run bore fruit.  The anti-poaching teams from Imfolozi side and Hluhluwe side of the Nature Reserve showed a drastic improvement in their skill and attitude towards apprehending poachers. From the first week on, the 2 teams were.  They survived contact with less casualties and injuries than before.

In January 2013, Scarlet Tactical was commissioned for 8 more courses. These courses were to be held at Spionkop, Ithala, Tembe Elephant Park, Hluhluwe, and Imfolozi Nature Reserves with a total of 96 rangers.

The course starts off on Day 1 with introductions and a safety briefing, and aexplaining how the Airsoft rifles work. Then the Rangers are thrown into the deep end with an evaluation scenario.

The Rangers break up into groups of three. They are instructed to act as if they are on a normal day-to-day patrol.  Suddenly they come under fire from “poachers”. This is to evaluate the Rangers’ abilities and what they need to learn to improve their skills.

After the evaluation scenarios are completed, instructors give the Rangers feedback on areas for improvement. For the rest of the day, the students are trained in bush tactics and law enforcement methods.

During Day 2, the Rangers are put to the test again in simulated scenarios to replicate various situations they may encounter in the bush facing a poacher. This is to evaluate the students and teach them to apply what they have learned from the day before. We are also tesing to see if the students have remembered and can implement what was taught even in situations that are not always “text book”.

The last scenario of the day is the “simulated poach”,   This final test is done in the reserve bush to simulate realism in a combat area of 5km x 5km. The “poachers” have killed a rhino and now have to escape the area or neutralise the Rangers who are tracking them. The Rangers have to capture or kill hostile poachers while applying what they have learned to protect their own lives. They must also stay within the South African Criminal Procedure Act, Section 49; use of deadly force or firearms.

This is the practical exam.  Any mistakes made during the simulated poach are yet again brought to the attention of the Ranger teams  In general, by the time the practical evaluation event begins, the students are well practised and geared to do their best.

All Rangers leave with a very high morale and superb team spirit. They can’t wait to be released on unsuspecting poachers, poachers who are unaware of their skill upgrade. We light a fire of enthusiasm within them for the job they do.  We boost them by making it clear that they are as important as the rhino themselves.  They are the unsung heroes in charge of protecting the rhino.  The rhinos’future is in the Ranger’s hands. We have equipped them not only with knowledge and skill, but with passion.

We have seen a large improvement in the arrest rate in KZN Wildlife, as well as situations where armed and dangerous poachers have been shot and killed, saving Ranger’s and rhinos’ lives.  Poachers will soon know not to mess with the Rangers of KZN Wildlife Reserves.

Alas, these courses are expensive and the funding of these courses is totally reliant on sponsors and donations to KZN Wildlife.  We would love to help more and train more Rangers. However, we await funding, that slows the project down at some stages to a complete standstill. We are trying to help fund, train, and purchase much needed equipment for the Rangers to do their work.

We being on the ground,with these men and woman are of the firm belief that if you want to save the rhinos in Africa, you need to save the men looking after them first.  By training them to do their job more effectively and keeping them safe, we feel that we are on the forefront of assisting in protecting this precious resource in keeping the only free rhinos left on earth alive.

Ronaldo Fourie is a 6 -year reaction force member in the South African Police and a principal at Scarlet Tactical, which was formed to meet the growing need of force-on-force training in South Africa.  Reach him on Scarlet Tactical’s Facebook page!/groups/544806148871924/  

Article and photos by Leolynne Smith Fourie