Information was received that a group of rhino poachers had fired shots just after sunset on a neighboring reserve. This meant that they would be trying to make their escape from the area and would be likely to cross back through the fence-line of the protected area in the early hours of the following morning.
At 04h00 the following morning a response team of counter-poaching rangers assembled and carried out a briefing as to how best intercept the suspected poaching group. These images showcase the follow-up that then took place over several hours and ended when the poaching group of three escaped into a waiting vehicle. Despite excellent training and tracking skills, rangers still face a difficult task in apprehending poaching groups.
1 of 20: A quick 04h00 briefing session amongst the follow up teams takes place prior to departure.
2 of 20: One of the two teams drives out of the control gates to head out to the boundary fence.
3 of 20: Driving through the thick bush en-route to the boundary fence.
4 of 20: Tracks of poachers where they had cut through the boundary fence of the protected area to make their escape. Patterns of the shoes are carefully noted for follow up.
5 of 20: Quick messages are sent through to the other team so as to keep them informed that the poachers tracks will now be followed.
6 of 20: With weapons at the ready, tracking of the spoor begins and takes place as fast as possible.
7 of 20: The tracking team spreads out to provide support and cover and ensures that the tracks of the poachers are not obliterated.
8 of 20: The tracks of the poachers crossed a hardened roadway to try and throw off the follow up team. One of the rangers finds the tracks again.
9 of 20: Updated positions are communicated through to support teams.
10 of 20: Where the tracks were lost, the teams spread out to improve the chances of relocating them.
11 of 20: Situational awareness of the broader surroundings is imperative.
12 of 20: Tracking of the group of three poachers extended over a few hours as they tried to shake us off their tracks.
13 of 20: The poachers crossed through several ploughed lands in the community areas necessitating us having to climb through fences.
14 of 20: The poachers tried to confuse us and hoped that we would loose their tracks along roadways where numerous other people had walked.
15 of 20: The easily identifiable track of a poacher lies embedded in soft ground.
16 of 20: Alertness levels increase as there is a realisation that the poachers are now not far ahead.
17 of 20: Rangers are highly alert knowing that the poachers are only a few minutes ahead.
18 of 20: A plastic bread packet, discarded by the poachers, lies caught in a thorn bush where a vehicle had been waiting to pick up the poachers.
19 of 20: Rangers debrief on site and at the point where the poachers escaped in their pick up vehicle.
20 of 20: Photographs of the poachers tracks are taken for uploading into the database and for future reference.