Dereck and Beverly Joubert are award-winning filmmakers, photographers, conservationists, and National Geographic Explorers-at-Large, who have been “exploring, observing, and championing wild places in Africa for over 30 years”. They founded the Great Plains Foundation to preserve and protect “the fragile ecosystems they care so deeply about”.
“Without international tourism, the tunnel went dark. Project Ranger is the bright light at the end of the tunnel.”
Following the onset of Covid-19 and its significant impacts on the travel industry across Africa, resulting in a devastating decline in income for many conservation organisations, including Pit-Track, Great Plains Foundation established Project Ranger. It became clear that “as travel and tourism has been brought to a standstill, many wilderness areas are left vacant and workers left with the uncertainty of personal income. This “perfect storm” of conditions is leaving many endangered animals highly vulnerable to wildlife crime”.
On this basis, Project Ranger is assisting conservation efforts to “fill a critical gap in the wildlife monitoring, surveying, and anti-poaching operations” by providing funding to support work on the frontline of conservation. These funds are vital to “supplement budget deficits with local ground partners by funding salaries, training, and operations of wildlife monitors, rangers and anti-poaching personnel”. Project Ranger is currently supporting 16 individual groups across nine countries.
Discussing this initiative, Dereck explains that they have “had the most stimulating time… connecting on a level of not just supporting rangers, but delving into the real day-to-day real-time situation in many countries on wildlife trafficking, wildlife crime and on rangers”.
Beverly continues that “we’ve got to remember that poaching has always happened; it was before Covid”, as she discusses their knowledge of and work in anti-poaching as early as the mid-1990s with the Wildlife Crime Unit of the Botswana Defence Force. She revealed her grim concerns of whether there is “going to be anything left after the pandemic once borders are open”.
Pit-Track is one of the beneficiaries of this vitally important program, providing us with much-needed funds to continue our efforts in the fight against poaching our national heritage. Carl comments that, “this Project Ranger is the “lifesaver” that is saving wildlife through this Covid-19 global pandemic”. He explains that, “without international tourism, the tunnel went dark. Project Ranger is the bright light at the end of the tunnel”. We are incredibly humbled and grateful for the support of this program, and are forever in their favour.
“We do it for the love and the passion of conservation” Kyle Irving
Pit-Track Director Carl Thornton, together with K9 handlers Karabo and Kyle, appear in the video at the 50-minute mark, with special cameos from K9s Matimba and Yanka. Carl discusses our K9s, commenting that they are “very specialised K9s that are deployed on the frontline of anti-poaching. These detection dogs specialise in the detection of firearms, ivory, rhino horn, and pangolin. They are searching all the vehicles coming in, making sure the vehicles are not bringing in firearms to poach animals, and searching all the vehicles going out, making sure that these vehicles are not removing wildlife contraband products outside of the conservancy. It’s a very, very important function”.
He explains that “even if the smallest quantity of contraband is deeply concealed within a vehicle, the dog will most certainly pick it up and bring attention to the handler, showing the handler that the vehicle is contaminated. If the dog indicates on a vehicle, these vehicles are pulled over into a secondary search area, where all the occupants and baggage are removed out of the car and the dog is given a second opportunity to pinpoint exactly where that contamination is coming from and show the handler exactly what contraband is in the car. This has been a very effective method of searching vehicles”.
Highlighting the success of the K9 unit, he states that it has “brought massive results in bringing people into investigations and catching rhino poachers and other animal poachers”, and that “to date, it’s probably one of the most effective anti-poaching tools we have”.
On a broader level, Carl states that “these initiatives need to be supported. They need to be sustained. They need to be applied all over South Africa wherever there are game reserves. By closing down the entry and exit points, we put the poachers back on their feet and back inside the conservancy and then our anti-poaching units out in the field have got a much better opportunity now to actually catch these guys”.