“Battleground: Rhino Wars” on Animal Planet documents the conflict between bloodthirsty poachers and one of South Africa’s anti-poaching units dedicated to stopping the illegal, lucrative trade of rhino horns.
By Kate O’Hare
On Thursday, March 7, at 9pm ET, Animal Planet premieres Battleground: Rhino Wars, a new three-part series that follows four current and veteran U.S. special forces members as they head to Kruger National Park in South Africa to help park rangers and local security forces battle the poachers who are decimating rhinoceros populations.
Unfortunately for the dwindling rhinos, their horns are in high demand in Asia and other parts of the world for their supposedly magical medicinal properties. According to a report in the U.K.’s Telegraph, a rhino is killed every 18 hours. At this rate, Africa’s rhinos could be gone in 10 years.
And the poachers aren’t wandering around the bush with a shotgun and a compass — they’re armed with sophisticated GPS systems, helicopters and semi-automatic weapons.
Says former Navy SEAL and team leader Craig “Sawman” Sawyer, “I hand-selected my team, all guys who shared that animal-lover passion with me, as well as the operational experience and expertise, to get together and travel halfway around the world and put ourselves between the poachers and these last few precious rhino, in a desperate attempt to try to save a species on the brink of extinction.”
One look at another of the team members, a Green Beret and medic who goes by the name of “Oz,” could be enough to give a poacher pause. Tall and muscled, with dark hair, dark eyes and a full beard, he’s intimidating. But this tough-looking war-fighter has a soft side.
“It feels like the right thing to do,” Oz says of saving endangered wildlife. “We all got over there and got immersed in it and cared about it. When we got there and got on the ground and got involved, the hook really set in that much deeper. We all looked at each other and thought, ‘We’re doing the right thing.’”
And they are getting help from the locals, who realize that a lot of the economy of the area is dependent on tourists drawn in by Africa’s magnificent large animals.
Says South African Dap Maritz, security manager for Game Reserves United, “It’s just wildlife. There’s no mines; there’s no farms; there’s nothing.”
Photo: Credit: Animal Planet