Horses now rhino’s best friend

Karien Keet

PHALABORWA – Horses might be back in active duty in the Kruger National Park (KNP) if a pilot programme launched in November is successful.

They will be deployed for mounted anti-poaching patrols.

Karien Keet, SANParks section ranger for Phalaborwa for 17 years, is in charge of the programme.
“The first challenge would be to get the horses used to wildlife and to teach them how to react to animals. Horses will also have to be trained to get used to gunshots,” she said.

Keet has been a rider for 23 years. She took part in endurance racing. She uses her own Arab horse, Nebucco, in the programme as well as two Arab/Boerperd crossings named Garribaldi (18) and Sabot (16).

These two were donated by SANParks Honorary Rangers, Gerhard and Lizet Kotze of Belfast and their son GD.

Phalaborwa whitehorse

The horses will be used for fence patrols on the 35-kilometre-long western-boundary fence mainly for the rangers to check the area for poacher tracks, fence breakages and also to monitor animals.

Patrols will be conducted during early mornings on hot days and horses will be regularly rested.

“On horseback one can get closer to animals than on foot or vehicle. The visible ranger presence on horseback might also become a deterrent,” explained Keet.

She believes the horses can be a good tool against poachers because they are fast-moving and can glide quietly through the bush. The area near the fence is dominated by mopani/bushwillow veld.

“One can cover a larger distance than on foot and get much closer to wildlife for monitoring purposes. Horses have excellent senses and they are very alert,” said Keet.

“We already had our first patrol and they were excellent.”

Field rangers are currently professionally taught how to ride and use the horses by Equetana Stables. If the project is proven to work, stables will be built in the Phalaborwa section of the KNP.

“Patrols will start as early as possible in the morning. Reaction teams will follow-up,” explained Keet.

Her husband, Dr Dewald Keet, is a veterinarian and will provide the necessary treatment for injuries, vaccinations and care for the horses.phalaborwa black horse (Small)

All three horses are trained geldings. “They have lovely characters and are perfect for patrols. They were introduced to wildlife by taking them on regular rides on the farm where they are currently stabled,” said Keet.

Currently three field rangers are participating in the project. “They are very enthusiastic. They have no previous experience in horse riding and have progressed to the stage where they could go on patrols in the park within one month,”said Keet.

All three are from the Phalaborwa section and have each been a ranger for three years.

Last year the section received the KNP regional award for Section of the Year due to their outstanding anti-poaching performance.

Lizet Kotze, who with her husband Gerhard donated Garribaldi and Sabot, is quite emotional about the project.

“The horses have excellent temperaments. It was hard to say goodbye to them. We trust Karien completely to make the best of the project,” Kotze said.

She mentioned that the horses were both used to wildlife but not the Big 5 as they had the run of a
4 000-hectare wildlife farm for two years.

“The rangers soon cottoned on to the fact that the horses are well-trained. They are also quite competitive after all those races. It wasn’t easy to say goodbye but at least we will see them now and again.”

The couple is regular weekend monitors at the KNP K9 Unit.

Keet takes a leaf out of the books of her African counterparts.

Horses are also used for patrols in Zakouma National Park in Chad where African Parks uses local rangers who are natural horsemen to patrol vast areas of the park.

As part of a wider anti-poaching strategy in Zakouma, the horses have played a vital role in halting the slaughter of what used to be large elephant herds. They have been so effective that there has not been one incident of poaching in Zakouma for over three years.

Mounted patrols are also used to track the family herds equipped with GPS satellite collars. There is also always a horse patrol team within earshot of the herd.

Elize Parker
Environmental Journalist Lowvelder

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