The mounted Equine Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) based on Amakhala Game Reserve is a great example of the effectiveness of collaboration in combating rhino poaching. This project was made possible by three entities pooling their resources together:
- UK-based Equine Anti-Poaching, led by UK wildlife vet, founder and project manager, Dr Danielle Jackson;
- US NGO Global Conservation Force (GCF), founded by Mike Veale and led by Roxane Losey, Director and Mounted Anti-Poaching Unit Coordinator and Los Angeles Zoo, a major grant donor to GCF for the project; and
- the African Rhino Conservation Collaborative (ARCC) in South Africa, led by renowned wildlife veterinarian Dr William Fowlds.
An equine APU is a low-impact ecological fit for any reserve - the horses are alert and have sharp senses, and can glide fast and quietly over rough terrain and through bush inaccessible by vehicle. The mounted APU also does not disturb the wildlife or emit carbon emissions, and while reducing fuel and maintenance costs, it can cover four times the distance a foot patrol can, and carrying more equipment.
The presence of the impressive APU horses and their armed riders is an effective deterrent against poachers, and also sparks interest in the local community and among guests visiting the reserve, encouraging word-of-mouth awareness about rhino poaching.
The now established and sustainable mounted APU started off small in 2016 with two existing and highly skilled APU team members who volunteered their services and two horses loaned to the project by Giles Gush, a reserve partner and purveyor of Amakhala Horse Trails.[Read more about Amakhala Horse Trails and the unique experience they offer riders HERE]
“The active support of Amakhala Horse Trails in terms of horses, saddles, established horse trails and horseback training for the APU team members was the quickest and most affordable way to get the project off the ground,” explains Dr Danielle Jackson. “A turning point for the project was when GCF came on board. After years of planning, we were able to deploy horses onto a private game reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.’’
GCF, an NGO providing on-the-ground APU support in terms of equipment, technology, advanced combat training, education and creating awareness, financed the first 12-month pilot project. Both the horses and riders received advanced riding and combat training for hostile or dangerous situations. Through donor funding, the equine APU was also equipped with equine tack and hardware such as water troughs, gates and fencing for paddocks.
As a result of the versatility and effectiveness of the horses in anti-poaching operations during the year-long pilot project, and the incredible benefits the equine patrols delivered, Amakhala decided to continue with the project. “The equestrian unit has been a valuable addition to our area - not just to our rangers and rhino, but also to our community where we have been able to protect our wildlife and also successfully employ a local community member as a part-time groomer - in line with Amakhala’s ongoing commitment to conservation and community,” says Mark Palmer, Conservation Manager of Amakhala.
“As a result of the work we now do, we have also secured local support and funding from Port Elizabeth Blue Steel Equestrian, who has pledged to sponsor the food for the APU horses for a year, which has been particularly appreciated during the drought which has limited the grazing conditions and Western Shoppe who have come on board with specialised equipment and tac. These local donors have complimented the generous funding provided by GCF. We are grateful to veterinarian, Dr Anni Mears who has been overseeing the project from October 2018 on a voluntary basis and to the Equine community who have come together to help protect the rhino.’’
“Great thanks go to Dr Jackson, Global Conservation Force, Los Angeles Zoo, ARCC, Amakhala Horse Trails, Blue Equestrian and Western Shoppe for their support and to our courageous APU rangers and bold horses who fight the good fight every day to protect our wildlife. The only reason an Equine APU became possible was that people with a passion for conservation worked together. As a result of this collaboration, a mounted APU is now another arrow in our quiver - a practical addition to the arsenal of specialised tools and equipment used in the ongoing fight against poaching. It is this kind of collaboration that is going to make any meaningful difference on poaching and environmental issues in general” concludes Palmer.
Jackson agrees: “This cohesive approach is a fantastic solution and proof that working together for conservation makes the end goal obtainable.’’
For more information:
About Dr Danielle Jackson
About Los Angeles Zoo