Poaching in the Kalahari.
Many people did not regard still as today, poaching as a crime; to many it was just a privilege or one of their pass times. Very often they would even tell their eager audience in embroidered detail of their poaching escapades.
Poaching took a knock during the WW1 as firearms, ammunition and fuel was in short supply – war amongst humans spelt peace for the Kalahari game. After the declaration of peace in 1918 things changed drastically, peace for mankind spelt war for the animals. Firearms, ammunition and fuel were available and poachers took their chance.
Only the diligence of the staff of the KTP prevented the wholesale slaughter of the precious game animals.
WW11 again brought peace for the game but after 1945 things reverted back to armed poachers doing their thing.
Oom Joep le Riche arrested 22 poachers during the period 1 to 7 June 1948, 52 donkeys, 18 dogs, 11 rifles were confiscated from them and their loot was 42 Gemsbok, 2 Elands, 1 male Lion and many smaller animals.
With the advent of four wheel drive vehicles poaching increased, most poachers coming from the then Union of South Africa, they were whites well equipped with powerful rifles and abundant ammunition. These people came from all over and once they had left the area, it was virtually impossible to trace them. This now wasn’t shooting for the pot – it had become a big business – Lions, Eland and Gemsbok paid the price.
The people from the Mier area were not a problem as they were not equipped to do large scale damage.
Coloureds poachers operated from the then Bechuanaland area.
While on patrol on the Bechuanaland side of the Nossob during 1952 he came upon a spot where poachers had left behind the remains of more than 150 Springbok carcasses, only the choice cuts had been removed
Poachers from South Africa found it very easy to do their evil deeds in the Bechuanaland Protectorate as all they had to do was to illegally cross the Molopo River and do their deeds as there was very little if any control in that area.
Oom Joep was successful during 1952, in arresting of these white poachers who were fined R320.00.
During the following year he came across a group of seven from Kenhardt and Kuruman, who were illegally of poached Eland and Springbok they were fined R2100.00 while five rifles and 330 rounds of ammunition was confiscated.
Oom Joep had a Landrover and a Jeep at his disposal; many of the poachers had faster four wheel drive vehicles who always tried to escape by racing away. Loose sand poor if any roads, shrubs and trees as well as deep Aardvark holes often made the chase very difficult.
Once apprehended many poachers would resort to violence, others would try and bribe their way out of trouble.
Often the poachers would drop six inch long nails imbedded in lead balls during their flight.
Oom Joep also often experienced the savage bloodthirstiness of man; some would kill just for the joy they could get from their deeds. Once while driving up the Auob Riverbed he at regular intervals came across Springbok carcasses that seemed to have just been killed by a speeding vehicle. The tracks in the sand told the story of how the fleeing animal was chased by the vehicle and then just driven over . . .
Willie Jacobs the person in charge of road maintenance one came across a spot where twenty three Eland had been shot, many of the carcasses were left untouched, only the prime cuts of the fattest were removed , this was not hunting it was just brutal wholesale slaughter.
Many entries can be read in Oom Joep’s journals about finding wounded animals – which had just been left behind by thoughtless hunters . . . There was no code of good conduct among these people.
Once a group of poachers entered the Kalahari Gemsbok Park from te then South West Africa, they had just shot two Gemsbok and Oom Joep caught them red handed.
During their trial their defence was that they had shot the Gemsbok in South West Africa and not in the Park. The Magistrate then said OK they would visit the site, on inspection the markings and tracks were still clearly visible – in the Park, they were found guilty and heavily fined.
Now the poachers felt done in and revenge was in their minds. They hired a hit man who had to sort out Joep le Riche.
The plan was that the Warden would be attracted to a certain spot where he would be “sorted out”. The Warden would be called to indicate the exact border so that they not repeat their previous mistake. Fortunately Oom Joep became aware of the plan.
Oom Joep decided to accede to their request, arriving at the pre agreed spot, he got out of his vehicle and very friendly greeted everyone present, and they started walking to indicate the beacons and boundaries. The “strong man” falling in next to the Warden, as they walked along the “strong man” regularly bumped the Warden with his shoulder in an attempt to annoy him. Oom Joep allowed this to happen a few times and walked along some Bluethorn trees, when the “strong man” again tried to bump Oom Joep he gave way and the “strong man” ended up in the thorns, Oom Joep “very kindly” assisted him in extracting himself from the sharp thorns, he even assisted in extracting the broken off thorns from his body. Needless to say that was the end of the set-up.
Oom Joep realised that poaching from the Bechuanaland side could only be managed if the Authorities were made aware of the situation, here below is a letter written to the Tsabong Area Manager on 9 November 1961:
I herewith wish to bring a few facts regarding our game animals to your attention.
I have twenty eight years of experience in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park as well as the proclaimed reserve in Bechuanaland and the Bechuanaland Kalahari.
When I arrived in the area during 1934 there was very little game left in the area. No animals were found for forty miles up the Auob River, the situation was the same for eighty five miles up the Nossob, the Coloured people living at Kameelsleep on the Bechuanaland side of the river hunted on a large scale even up to Union’s End, they hunted the whole area also deep into Bechuanaland.
The British Government moved these people to Bokseputs and declared the area twenty five miles east of the Nossob River up to Union’s End a Game Reserve, during 1938.
Fuel was in short supply during WW11, ammunition was unobtainable, resulting in hunting coming to an end. All Game Species increased rapidly.
During 1946 I estimated there to be 20000 Springbok, 6000 Gemsbok, 4000 Red Hartebeest and 350 Eland as well as many Blue Wildebeest in the Nossob Area.
After the War fuel and arms and ammunition became available and poaching from British Bechuanaland has drastically increased, in one instance I came across 153 Springbok carcasses in a poacher’s camp with only the parts that could be turned into biltong removed.
I requested the National Parks Board for authority to also patrol outside the twenty five mile area of British-Reserve. Your Government had agreed that I may do so.
Tracks of poachers from the Malopo leading northwards for 85 miles were come across. I have found that animals have been hunted along these tracks only with the intent of making biltong, even Eland have been slaughtered for this purpose.
Poaching from the Union has lessened after many of them had been arrested and charged, hefty fines were levied.
Of the Coloured people from Bokseputs poach animals and sell the venison and biltong to people residing in the Union.
Very often only the biltong parts are removed and the remainder is left to rot.
I have also found that many of them go into the veld for a while, their only reason being to make biltong.
I can assure you that they do not only hunt for sustenance for themselves, they mostly hunt for biltong which is sold in the Union for3/6 or 4 shillings a pound. I have arrested many of these people.
They are still hunting illegally. Catching offenders in the widespread Kalahari is quite difficult.
I often catch poachers in possession of Gemsbok meat who then pretend that it is Blue Wildebeest.
Poaching still occurs north of Union’s End – people from South-West Africa. They are regularly caught here; I have lost quite a few cases at Tsabong due to the fact that there is no recognisable border between South-West Africa and British-Bechuanaland. Unfortunately the Magistrate would not always accept my evidence that they had been caught in the Protectorate.
Game counts are done monthly in the Nossob area between Twee Rivieren and Union’s End.
Please compare them with those of 1946.
Springbok – 1263.
Gemsbok – 183.
Red Hartebeest – 175.
Blue Wildebeest – 18.
Ostrich – 153.
Eland – 3.
This count reflects the situation as in October 1961; the numbers quoted are the average for the different species counted during the month. Very often no Eland are come across.
You can now envisage yourself the predicament we are in in our attempt to conserve our game animals.
We not only have to combat poachers, we also suffer extended periods of severe drought. We therefore have to do our utmost to conserve our wild animals for posterity. The dangerous possibility that all our animals could be lost, is much greater than often realised, therefore my urgent request for assistance.
I request that;
a.) The border between South-West Africa and British-Bechuanaland be fenced northward from Union’s End, an open area of about 50 to 60 miles.
b.) That for a period of five years no permission be given to anyone to hunt in the Kalahari. I am convinced that the animals now being threatened by a disaster would then be able to multiply even in periods of drought.
For your information I may mention that that the National Parks Board have fenced the border between the Park and South-West Africa, from Union’s End southwards for a distance of 120 miles, with great success. We earlier experienced the problem of game animals leaving the Park in a westerly direction as well as poachers from South-West Africa, both instances now reduced to the minimum.
There is no time left to allow game animals to be hunted, the times of hunting to make some money, is of the past. We now have to cooperate with one another and preserve the little that is still left.
J.D. LE RICHE.
Driving through the KTP now, one may decide for oneself whether the efforts of this pioneer and his two sons Stoffel and Elias were in vain or not.
I participate because I care - CUSTOS NATURAE
No to Hotels in and commercialization of our National Parks.
Done 144 visits to National Parks.
What a wonderful privilege.