Killing of Ranger Protecting Rhinos Raises Fears for Conservation Efforts

Anton Mzimba, the lead ranger of the South African reserve, had received multiple death threats. However, according to an interview last year, he reminded himself that he was working for the greater good by protecting rhinos, and tried to keep danger warnings from reaching him.

“What I do is not for myself,” Mzimba said. 2021 interview“I am doing this for the world, for my children’s children. One day, when I retire, when I die, they will be wild animals.” so that you can enjoy

Africa’s close-knit conservation community has been reeling since Mzimba was shot in front of his family in his home on July 26. Mzimba’s wife was also shot, but she survived. The killing has sparked concerns that crime syndicates are becoming more brazen and violent in their efforts to secure illegal wildlife products.

Mzimba, 42, was the head ranger of Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, a Greater Kruger nature reserve home to elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards and cheetahs. In an environment plagued by poaching and corruption, Mzimba was known for his incorruptibility.

“If you want to talk on the front lines, talk about Anton Mzimba,” says Ruben de Kock, operations manager at professional training group LEAD Ranger. “He was the ultimate Ranger.”

I was contacted by phone, Brig. “We don’t know if the attack is related to his work or personal life,” said Selby Mohlara, the police spokesman leading the investigation into Mr. Mzimba’s murder.

But given the number of serious job-related threats aimed at Mr. Mzimba and his efforts to stop a crime syndicate, Andrew Campbell, chief executive of the African Game Rangers Association, said it seems most likely to be the motive.

Mzimba’s dedication to “surely” protecting wildlife appears to have played a role, said Edwin Pearce, a Timbavati lifeguard. “Anton was a man of integrity and steadfast in his protection of the rhinoceros,” he said.

“The fact that the syndicate actually went ahead with this means Anton was a significant threat to them,” Pearce added.

Rangers around the world face life-threatening dangers every day, but rangers in Africa face an especially high level of danger. Elephant and rhino poachers are always armed, and in politically unstable places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, militia groups often clash with rangers.

Of the 565 African rangers known to have died in the line of duty since 2011, 52% were due to homicide, Campbell said. The death toll is also on the rise, with a record 92 of his rangers dying last year, half of them from murder.

But Mzimba’s death stands out as an “escalation from the norm,” Campbell said. “Now these syndicates feel comfortable literally stepping in and doing mob-style hits.”

Campbell also added that Mzimba was likely targeted because of his high profile in the conservation and wildlife security community.he was named Field Ranger of the Year Featured as the protagonist of an upcoming documentary film.RhinomanHe also served as a technical advisor to the World Conservation Corps and now helped launch the Connect the World program. 10,000 South African students A week in their natural heritage.

“Anton was one of the kindest, sweetest, most loving people, but he was also a warrior,” said John Jurko II, co-director of Rhino Man. “He was protecting these rhinos from serious threats from poachers.”

Born in Mozambique, Mr. Mzimba and his family moved to South Africa in search of better opportunities. His career in conservation began by accident. The job of removing invasive plants brought him to Timbavati. Mzimba was only 17, but his work ethic caught the attention of the reserve director, who offered him a full-time job.

Within a decade, Mr. Mzimba was captain of Timbavati’s rangers. “This was someone who really did it from the bottom up,” de Kok said.

Mzimba often said that he considers wildlife conservation a Christian duty and was known for his loyalty.

When Mr. Mzimba started working in Timbavati in 1998, most of the poachers he caught were poor people who crept into the reserve in search of food. By the 2010s, however, organized crime syndicates were actively pursuing rhino horn, which was in high demand in China, Vietnam, and other Asian countries. “We’ve moved from poaching and killing animals for meat to killing animals for money,” Mzimba said last year.

As of 2017, South Africa was home to the rest of the world’s 75%. 23,562 white and black rhinos, according to the International Union for Conservation of least 9,353 rhinos in South Africa It has been killed for its horns in the last 13 years. Poaching is down from his 1,215 rhino loss in 2014, but remains a major problem. Last year, 451 rhinos were killed.

Elise Serfontein, founder of, a non-profit conservation organization based in South Africa, said: “But efforts to maintain that line are costly financially, and rangers and reserve management are costly, both physically and mentally.”

Pierce said rangers regularly received death threats because of their jobs, and Mzimba was no exception. “The poaching syndicate tried to break him down emotionally and psychologically, but he didn’t,” de Kok said.

Last spring, Mr. Mzimba drafted a threatening letter with local police to report multiple threats related to his work to protect wildlife. “We wanted the person who was threatening Anton’s life to be arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder,” Pierce said.

Mzimba learned in May that his name was on a more serious target list, Pierce and de Kock said. De Kok and his wife offered to let Mzimba and his family stay temporarily in their home in another part of the country, but Mzimba declined and had to stay close to his fellow rangers. I told Mr. de Kok that there was

Police spokesman Brigadier General Mourala said two people came to Mzimba’s home on July 26, claiming their car had broken down and asking for water. Mr. Mzimba was outside servicing his car and his son went to fetch water when Mr. Mzimba was shot. They also shot his wife, who was still in the hospital.

Brigadier General Mohlara said, “No arrests have been made, but it is safe to say that the investigation has not stopped.”

Mzimba is not the first high-profile conservationist to be killed in what appears to be a targeted assassination. For example, in 2017, Wayne Lotter, co-director of his PAMS Foundation, an anti-poaching group investigating ivory trafficking in Tanzania, was shot dead in his car while returning from the airport in Dar es Salaam. rice field. PAMS Founding Director Chrissy Clark said:

In 2020, Lieutenant Colonel. South African police detective Leroy Bulwer, who specializes in investigating rhino poaching syndicates, was also shot dead on his way to work. last year, Vajra Obed Kofa A senior Kenyan Wildlife Service official was gunned down on his way home after dropping his daughter off at school.

South Africa in particular is already suffering from “extremely high levels of assassination linked to politics and organized crime”, said Julian Lademeyer, director for East and Southern Africa at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. . The current concern is that such targeted killings will become more common among conservationists.

Lademeyer said if Mzimba’s killers weren’t brought to justice, it would have a chilling effect on other rangers, “sending the message that this sort of thing will go unpunished and those involved will be virtually untouchable.” It will happen,” he added.

Only 19% in South Africa murder case solved, according to the Security Institute. Pierce said so far he and his colleagues have been “frustrated” by the lack of urgency and “slowness” of the investigation. “Anton’s legacy needs to be honored and we need to get to the bottom of this issue,” Pierce said. “We hope this will be seen as a high priority case.”

“All homicides are treated as high priority crimes,” Mohlara said. “If anything happens, I’ll arrest you immediately.”

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