A senior park ranger from South Africa’s Kruger National Park has been charged with rhino poaching. To make matters even worse, the section ranger, Lawrence Baloyi, has previously spoken out publicly about the evils of poaching. He was arrested in late September after two poachers – both also employees of the park – were caught red-handed by police and confessed that Baloyi was their boss in the poaching operation. The case is raising serious questions about corruption within South Africa’s national parks and authorities must now try to determine just how long Baloyi has been leading a double life.
The rhino poaching activity of those tasked with protecting the animals was discovered on 21 September, 2014. Four police officers were undertaking a crime scene investigation on old rhino carcasses in Kruger National Park (KNP) when they heard gunshots. They took to their helicopter and soon found a freshly killed rhino with an axe lying nearby. After calling in assistance from park staff, they used sniffer dogs to track down Andrea Mabunda and Shakes Baloyi, who were found hiding only 200 meters from the carcass. Mabunda is a field guide and Baloyi is employed as a gardener at KNP.
The pair were discovered in possession of a rifle belonging to KNP, as well as seven rounds of ammunition, two knives and an axe. Upon being questioned, the poachers quickly confessed to police that they had been dropped off for their mission by section ranger Lawrence Baloyi, whom they claimed to work for. Lawrence Baloyi was soon also arrested, and the three appeared in court the next day. At the hearing the two poachers who had been detained in the park complained to the court that they had been “brutally assaulted” by police. They were advised to open criminal charges against the officers.
As recently as August 2014, in an interview with Voice of America, Lawrence Baloyi was quoted discussing how difficult it is to combat the corruption associated with poaching. He stated: “They are clever … if someone got a rhino, it’s like a big boss, mega big party, all the ladies – they rise to him. So, he is sending information that: guys, [while] you [are] busy sitting here, we are making money there. Follow me next. That’s why those groups escalate every day.” Baloyi was one of only 23 section rangers in the park. Of the incident, Mr Abe Sibiya, acting CEO of SANParks, said “These [arrests] send a strong message that officials alleged to be involved in poaching, will be arrested and face the full might of the law. It is unfortunate that those trusted with the well-being of these animals are alleged to have become the destroyers of the same heritage they have a mandate to protect.” In early September 2014, two other rangers from a private concession within the KNP were arrested while allegedly waiting to sell two horns from an animal that had died of natural causes.
Photos by Valentina Sorti via Flickr