Kruger rangers face lie tests to catch rhino poachers
Jane Flanagan
17th May 2021

Lie detector tests are to be introduced for staff at Kruger National Park amid fears that international poaching gangs have infiltrated the ranger force in South Africa’s renowned reserve.

The park boasts the world’s largest concentration of rhinoceroses, but has lost two thirds of its numbers to poachers over the past decade. More than 40 park workers have been sacked for involvement in the slaughter during the same period.

Kruger bosses fear that powerful syndicates have planted moles within the 400-strong ranks of rangers who guard the park’s endangered species. “We know that our staff are approached to provide information and the sums of money involved are big,” Ike Phaahla, the park spokesman, said. “We do have suspicions that some of the rangers have been planted there by gangs, but this is difficult to prove if you don’t have clear evidence.”

It is against the South African constitution to compel a person to undergo a polygraph test unless she or he consents. Sanparks, the state authority that runs the national parks, plans to make surrendering to testing a condition of employment in all new contracts, including for the most senior management.

Phaahla added: “Internal corruption is a scourge and it severely undermines our operations in all our parks, not only Kruger. We can’t afford to lose any more rhinos and we must have people with integrity guarding our rhinos.”

With a polygraph machine, multiple signals from sensors attached to the person being questioned are recorded on a strip of moving paper. The sensors typically record the rate of breathing, blood pressure, pulse and perspiration and sometimes leg or arm movements. During questioning, a person’s signals are recorded on the paper and significant changes in vital signs can be an indication that they are lying.

Kruger’s crackdown on corrupt insiders has also led to allegations of torture, assault and racial discrimination by black game rangers against white managers who make up a minority of park employees but hold senior positions.

Sanparks has laid criminal charges against 43 staff members it found to have links to poaching, but only one has resulted in a conviction in the courts. The park, which is roughly the size of Wales and shares a 300-mile border with Mozambique, has been besieged by poaching gangs as the economies of Vietnam and China have grown and with them demand for rhino products.

Rhino horns are most coveted in Asia’s illegal markets where they fetch up to £55,000 per kilogram, as status symbols and for use in traditional medicine. In 2007 South Africa recorded 13 rhinos killed by poachers but by 2014 deaths had risen to 1,215.

Reports of a decline in poaching since 2014 had offered some hope for efforts to prevent the extinction of rhinos. However, the latest figures suggest that their growing scarcity has contributed to that downward trend as much as anti-poaching measures or a reduced demand. Restrictions on movement during coronavirus lockdowns led to a reduction in killing, but poaching rose again once these were lifted, according to South Africa’s environment ministry.

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