AUSTIN – Texas Game Wardens recently traveled to Kruger National Park in South Africa to begin an annual professional exchange program with South African National Parks Game Rangers.
The program is aimed at providing professional growth and leadership development opportunities between the two agencies and to increase education and awareness of international wildlife trafficking, which negatively effects conservation efforts in both Texas and South Africa. The illegal trade of wildlife and wildlife parts is a multibillion-dollar international business following only narcotics, human trafficking, and weapons in estimated profits.
“The illegal sale and exploitation of wildlife resources is a global problem that has a direct negative effect on the State of Texas and could lead to the loss of Texas native species, either through the harvest of native species or introduction of non-indigenous invasive species,” said Col. Grahame Jones, Law Enforcement Director with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Texas Game Wardens have increased the focus on wildlife trafficking operations over the last decade, which includes navigating through internet forums and online marketplaces where trade in both live wildlife and wildlife parts frequently occurs. Game wardens work to identify suspect sales and negotiate undercover transactions with willing sellers to purchase a wide variety of native and non-native wildlife species from around the world.
Kruger National Park is over 7,500 square miles in size and has international borders with Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Since 2010, Kruger Game Rangers have battled against heightened rhino poaching efforts targeting the rhino’s horn, elephant poaching for ivory and recently an increase in lion poaching for the sale of teeth, claws and bones in international markets, in addition to subsistence poaching. This occurs in a park with over 1.8 million annual visitors. This environment creates extensive challenges for those tasked with protecting the areas natural resources.
While at Kruger, Texas Game Wardens met with park management to discuss shared issues and how they relate to wildlife crimes in Texas. Game wardens also participated in a snare patrol to locate and remove 95 snares along the Sabie River and conducted foot patrols which included a crime scene overview at the location of a poached rhino and death investigation and tusk removal of a deceased elephant. Additionally, the game wardens toured the Kruger K9 facility and participated in a tracking scenario.
“The opportunity to work beside the dedicated and passionate Game Rangers at Kruger National Park and see the challenges and strategies to overcome those challenges first hand was an insightful and invaluable learning experience,” said Chief Chris Davis with TPWD’s Law Enforcement Division. “Places like Kruger National Park are the epicenter for conservation law enforcement and the fight against illegal wildlife trafficking.”
Plans are underway for Kruger National Park staff to visit in January of 2020 to be immersed in Texas Parks and Wildlife Department operations and continue to learn and grow professionally through diverse perspectives and opportunities.