JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A new chief ranger has been appointed at South Africa's biggest national park, a major tourist attraction whose managers are struggling to stem record levels of rhino poaching.
Xolani Nicholus Funda, a former ranger who has also been a university lecturer in nature conservation, took over the top ranger post at Kruger National Park this month, South African National Parks said Tuesday.
Funda's past conservation work with local communities is critical because people living on the borders of national parks are key to thwarting wildlife crime, park officials said.
Funda succeeds Johan Jooste, a former military officer who has described the campaign against rhino poaching as a war. Rangers sometimes clash with armed poachers who routinely operate in Kruger park, though such confrontations generally occur far from where tourist go. Nearly 160 suspected poachers were arrested in Kruger park in the past year, police said.
Poachers killed a record 1,215 rhinos in South Africa last year, and most were slaughtered in Kruger, according to state statistics. South Africa is home to 22,000 rhinos, more than 80 percent of the global rhino population, the government has said.
Kruger has been vulnerable to poachers infiltrating from neighboring Mozambique. The park has also experienced a surge in elephant poaching this year after largely being spared the large-scale elephant slaughter that has hit wildlife parks in other parts of Africa in recent years.