More than 5,100 African rhinos have been lost to poaching in the past five years, 50% of those being killed in Kruger National Park. With 80% of the world’s rhino population in South Africa and the vast majority of those in the Greater Kruger area, Kruger National Park is a main target for poaching syndicates who approach from all sides and surrounding countries.
With such severe poaching and a high number of incidences on the western border we have committed ourselves to protecting the border from syndicates entering Greater Kruger National Park.
We have five elite squads operating in the Greater Kruger region along with a base camp and a sniffer dog unit protecting the Western border of Greater Kruger Park. Our squads patrol the perimeter and surrounding roads of the game parks and nature reserves using military grade surveillance equipment to assist with the effective detections and detainment of unauthorised personnel entering the reserves and to prevent poaching syndicates entering the park via the Greater Kruger Area.
Our squads support law enforcement agencies in their daily operations, such as setting up entry blockades, disqualifying any prohibited items being carried into or out of parks, helping social unrest victims to safety, as in the case of the April 2017 riots, and fighting illegal activities in the bush. Additionally, our elite squads are trained to perform forensic autopsies of carcasses found and the South African Police Service call on our forensic skills in order to retrieve the bullet(s), DNA and any incriminating evidence which can then be used in court for arrest, prosecution and sentencing.
Hemmersbach Rhino Force is collaborating with the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR) with whom we work closely to reach the best outcomes for the wildlife, nature and people in the areas covered.
All Hemmersbach Rhino Force squads are equipped with special surveillance systems like infrared and night vision cameras providing superior and immersive 360 degree views, head mounted night vision monoculars and infrared headlights allowing our squads to drive covertly at night. The surveillance systems from each vehicle continually feed back footage to the base in real time thus allowing us to re-evaluate our procedures with incoming information additionally each squad member and his actions is tracked and filmed; this and our intelligence operations enables us to coordinate the squads and prepare them for ambushes to successfully detain people illegally entering the park. The equipment allows for proactive operations, rather than reactive, which makes us unique and separates us from most conservation armies. Using this approach makes us significantly more effective as reactive responses are often, sadly, too late for the wildlife.
The Lower Zambezi Valley was once home to two thousand black rhinos, however, all have since been poached or translocated to safer areas. Our main goal in initiating the Chirundu Anti-Poaching Project is to make this land safe again so that rhinos can be securely re-introduced and given the opportunity to thrive. The existing wildlife in the area is also under threat from intense poaching by people crossing the border of the Zambezi River; therefore by aiming to create a safe space for rhinos we are also protecting the species currently inhabiting this area.
We have agreed upon a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Zimbabwe National Parks giving us jurisdiction to operate in the entire Hurungwe district and crucially the border of the Zambezi River. Further on, we have leased the former hunting area Rifa in the beginning of 2018 and stopped all hunting activities to bring back an abandoned wildlife that has roamed the area for thousands of years. Rifa is 800 km2 in size and equivalent to one third of the entire Hurungwe area.
As of early 2017, Hemmersbach Rhino Force and Zimbabwe National Parks jointly began anti-poaching activities in the Lower Zambezi Valley, Zimbabwe. Our command centre is based by the Zambezi River and team coordination during ambush and detainment operations is managed from there. We have several camps from which we operate boat, plane and vehicle squads.
Our boat squads are a vital element to our operations and critical to preventing the loss of wildlife as they simultaneously act as border patrol preventing poachers crossing the Zambezi River and allowing our squads to identify potential crossing and entry points or weak spots. The plane squad allows us to patrol vast areas and has the added benefit of a bird’s eye view allowing for advanced warnings and alerts to the ground response teams as well as a different logistical input.
Furthermore, we also support the national park staff and the local community by improving their living and working conditions and supporting law enforcement. Currently our focus is on restoring and equipping the Karl Pisec School in Marongora and supporting the intiatives of Chief Chundu, chief of the Hurungwe area.
We have equipped the area with high-end surveillance technology which can detect illegal individuals crossing the nation’s border and allow us to deploy our boat squads immediately, if not already on patrol.
Our plane squad is fitted with modern sensors and electronically linked to our command centre, making it a key factor in deploying and informing our ground squads with real-time updates to make us the most effective conservation unit in Southern Africa.
One of the worst-case scenarios for us would be to fail at protecting rhinos from poaching in South Africa and Zimbabwe. For this reason, we would like to have one last ace up our sleeve: a biobank.
This is why we created the Hemmersbach Rhino Force Cryovault. This biobank hold deeply frozen sperm, egg cells and other genetic material of African rhinos. The purpose of our project is to enable future assisted reproduction of rhinos by applying genetics collected and cryopreserved now! Using this approach enables us to conserve the genetic diversity of these pachyderms for future generations.
Not only DNA, cells or tissues are stored indefinitely by cryo-conservation, but also rhino sperm and oocytes (egg cells). Consequently, this frozen archive contributes to the research of population genetics, but more importantly, can be directly applied in current rhino breeding through assisted reproduction technologies. We feel that this is an inevitable step for the future rhino conservation and an ultimate safety net against genetic diversity loss.
We therefore asked the renowned veterinarian and expert in wildlife assisted reproduction, Dr. Imke Lüders from Hamburg, and her colleague Dr. Ilse Luther from South Africa to join our team. The two researchers lead our project Cryovault.
„A minimum basis of genetic variety is important to breed and grow a viable population of rhinos.“ Dr. Imke Lüders, GEOlifes
Our objective is to build the largest cryovault for African rhino genetics in the world by sampling post-morten and intra-vitam. Moreover, we want to establish a reference database for this species. Any material collected will be banked alongside with animal biometrical, environment and location data, which provides crucial information for the studying of population dynamics.