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Top African wildlife park looks to villages to stop poachers
Published in 4-10-2016
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In the two South African provinces where the park is located, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, the official unemployment rates were 29 percent and 18 percent early this year. While well-off tourists with expensive gear bounce through the park on game drives and stay at upscale lodges, their money often doesn't make it to villagers. At the Southern African Wildlife College on the edge of the park, a new government-funded job program is training 119 young men and women "living in marginalized areas" to become field rangers and guides in wildlife reserves that are often near their homes. The trainers have learned to spot signs of determination, such as the hopefuls who arrive in borrowed sneakers a size or more too small. Day by day, pieces of the shoes are cut away to make room for fresh blisters. "Kids once learned to track from a very young age," said Gawie Lindeque, a head trainer and guide at the wildlife college. The tall 27-year-old from Limpopo said there are "too many poachers" in her home community who don't know the importance of wildlife, and she called the job of park ranger very challenging. Poachers have even shot at Kruger National Park's helicopters as they scan the vast, dry landscape for intruders. For park rangers from local communities, the risk from both poachers and local sympathizers can follow them home.