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Where is the Ethos?

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Something has happened in the "official" conservation landscape of South Africa - something which is both disturbing and ominous and does not bode well for the future.

I remember from the young age of 9 or 10 years of dreaming about becoming a ranger in one of our countries national parks. The dream was not motivated by money – all I hoped for was the opportunity to work with wildlife in wild places.


It took a lot of study and effort and persistence to make that dream a reality. But eventually at the age of 22 it did, and for the first time on 1st August 1977 I slipped the green and yellow National Parks epaulets onto the shoulder tabs of my shirt. What an exciting and proud day it was for me.

The "koedoe kop" embroidered onto the epaulet together with the words National Parks / Nasionale Parke and the Latin motto "Custos Naturae" meant something to me and to all my colleagues. We were "custodians of nature" – that was our job, that was our calling and like our predecessors we were not in it for the money.

We embarked on the profession knowing full well it was one of the most poorly paid. The adventurous, exciting and challenging lifestyle and most of all the fact that we had a real passion for protecting wildlife and wild places was our motivation. I remember the code of conduct I signed. It stated unequivocally that a ranger was on duty 24 hours a day seven days a week. We worked long hours, often overtime, sometimes under dangerous conditions without (or not expecting) any remuneration other than what was stated on our letters of employment. We were doing what we loved and getting paid to do it.

On a score of 10 for job satisfaction most of us scored a full house. Granted things were difficult at times, financially speaking, but we somehow made ends meet and being able to raise our kids in the Kruger National Park and being part of a community that was focused on a cause compensated in much more meaningful ways than having a fat cheque at the end of the month. I resigned from National Parks close on 20 years later. I had envisaged working there until retirement age eventually caught up with me. I left not because of money issues but because the face of politics began to rear its ugly head in the workplace.

Since then things seemed to have gained momentum on a slippery downward slope of declining standards and declining ethics. I think it is indicative of the state of affairs that the motto "Custos Naturae" no longer appears on the epaulets of SANParks officials. There appears to be only a handful of dedicated individuals who are still motivated by the cause of conservation.

The majority now seem to be in it for the money.

Perhaps they should put a new motto on their epaulets "For the cash and not the cause". This is not confined to SANParks. Most of the provincial conservation agencies are in even a worse state. What a sad, sad picture this paints. Never during all my years as a ranger would we ever have even considered going on strike for higher wages. It was simply not within our frame of reference.

Yet now as I write this the Kruger National Park’s field rangers – the ones who are supposed to be on the front lines of protecting the Parks natural assets – are entering close on their third month of a strike over a wage dispute. This at a time when rhino poaching in the Park is almost spiraling out of control. They use this stark reality as a form of leverage to "negotiate" for higher wages. Shame on them! They are not worthy of the title "field ranger".

When they do eventually decide to go back to work (yes I am sure their wage demands will be met) they will probably have the gall to say they are going back because they are concerned about the rhino poaching. Mark my words. They must think we are all fools and cannot see through their hypocrisy and duplicity. If they are in the profession for the money they are in the wrong profession. They should get out or be fired to make way for people who are really committed to the cause of conservation – if any such people among the masses still exist that is.

The reason they don’t get out and go to higher paying professions if that many of them (with the rare exception) are just too plain lazy and useless. To show where their true loyalties lie has been brought into sharp focus of late when a field ranger, field guide and a SANPARKS traffic official have been involved in rhino poaching in the Kruger Park.

This tells a story of the underlying rot which has set in and may be only the tip of the iceberg with who knows who else involved. Another ex-section ranger who had resigned from SANParks and was training young rangers was also involved in rhino poaching on private reserves in the Limpopo Province.

I am au fait with the wage issues that were creating discontent amongst the field ranger corps and whilst having a measure of empathy with them regarding the causes of the dispute (which is a reflection of poor top management) the way they went about things amounts to nothing more than desertion and dereliction of duties with rhinos having to pay the price and must be deplored in the strongest of terms.

And so what of the future? When men bow to the god of money as the Scriptures say it will become the root of all evil. Africa is easily corrupted and especially the people that work in government and semi-government institutions. The field rangers in Kruger have been on a two and a half month strike demanding higher wages whilst rhino are being slaughtered at an unprecedented rate and instead of being fired like they should be they will in all likelihood prevail in their wage dispute. They will set a precedent and in a year or two the situation will repeat itself as they wield the power of the democratic masses. On a regular basis the Park will be without its protectors as the "quasi guardians" prostrate themselves before the idol of mammon, and the slaughter will continue.

Perhaps if we wrote a contemporary African version of Chief Seattle’s letter it would end with the following words:

Cleve Cheney is a wilderness trail leader, rated field guide instructor and the author of many leading articles on the subjects of tracking, guiding, bowhunting and survival. Cleve has unrivalled experience in wildlife management, game capture and hunting, both with bow and rifle.
Click here to visit his site

When the rhino are all slaughtered,
the wild elephant and lion no more.
The secret corners of the bush
heavy with the scent of money loving men,
and the old guardians lying cold in their graves.

Where are the wild places?
Where are the wild creatures?

And what is it to say goodbye
to the swift and the hunt,
the end of living
and the beginning of serving an idol called mammon
who ultimately brings death.

• Finding Jimmy •
• Bardot and Elephant Culling •
• Rhino in the bathroom •
• The greatest threat Part 1 •
• The greatest threat Part 2 •
• Rhino Wars •
• You cannot eat money •
• Giant Sable •
• Why are cows not endangered? •
• Wildlife in Zambabwe •
• Hunt elephant in the Kruger •
• Where is the Ethos? •
• The Palanca First Trimester •
• Unwelcome strangers •
• Palanca Report 1st Trimester 2014 •

•  •

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