The murder this week of 49-year-old Timbavati ranger Anton Mzimba has caused an explosion of grief and anger, with many calls being made for his killers to be arrested.
Anton Mzima once said, “I am not shy to say that I’m a hero. Because I know that the poacher, before he shoots at the rhino, is going to shoot at me first.”
And this is exactly what happened outside his home in Edinburgh Trust near Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, on Tuesday. The courageous head of ranger services at Timbavati reserve was gunned down in cold blood. His wife was also shot and is fighting for her life.
Mzimba had worked at Timbavati for 25 years, dedicating his life to the protection of wildlife. At the 2016 Rhino Conservation Awards, he was given the Best Field Ranger award. He also served as technical adviser for the US-based Global Conservation Corps.
Mzimba’s murder left the conservation world stunned, with many friends and colleagues taking to social media to pay tribute and mourn the tremendous loss of this wildlife warrior.
Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge called for those responsible for Mzimba’s death to be brought to justice. Prince William said in a tweet that he was deeply saddened to learn of the killing of the ranger, who he spoke to in November last year.
“Committed and brave rangers like Anton are central to the conservation of Africa’s fantastic wildlife. Those responsible must swiftly be brought to justice. My thoughts are with his family,” said Prince William.
Ranger trainer Ruben de Kock said Mzimba was incorruptible and extremely loyal.
“He was connected and never feared what was coming for him. Mzimba knew there were threats on his life but he stayed loyal to his job… to die at the hands of criminals is sickening. They failed to corrupt him and decided to kill him.”
De Kock said it was a blow to lose someone who was so dedicated to conservation and who worked for the good of his community, family and the country.
“Mzimba was a brilliant mentor, a good person who always gave more. I trained rangers for 27 years and I had never met someone like him. He was always neat, sharp and respectful towards nature and people and he respected his position,” he said.
De Kock said he had offered Mzimba a job training rangers at his company where he would earn triple what he earned at Timbavati, but Mzimba had declined.
“He said Timbavati has done a lot for him and this showed how loyal he was to his employer,” said De Kock.
Timbavati Game Reserve has started an Anton Mzimba Legacy Trust Fund to which people can donate. In a statement, Timbavati said Mzimba had left a legacy which they would honour and never forget.
“The Timbavati, as well as our Greater Kruger landscape, has not only lost a great man… but a special family member, a rhino warrior, a wildlife guardian, a loved one, a comrade, a friend and a true legend,” read the statement.
“Those who had the pleasure of meeting him, spending time with him and working with him, will know how he dedicated his life to what he believed in, fighting for a species which has no voice of its own, and uplifting and inspiring the people who he knew needed his support.
“There has been no greater man,” said the statement.
Passion and willingness
Timbavati said Mzimba started his conservation career in 1997 as an erosion fieldwork team member.
“Drawn and inspired by the reserve’s beauty and wildlife, Mzimba showed his passion and willingness to do more… In April 1998, Anton passed his basic field ranger training… one of the youngest field rangers within the unit. In 2003, Anton was promoted to Full Corporal Instructor, overseeing the training programme which aimed to keep his ranger team fit, physically and mentally.”
Mzimba created the field rangers’ work ethic, promoting and motivating his team to continue their efforts to combat wildlife crime.
“The year 2008 saw Anton lifted into the leader he was meant to be — Head of Ranger Services for the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. The impact that this one man has had, not only within the wildlife space, but also touching the lives of and inspiring young children, has been simply enormous,” said the reserve.
Timbavati said Mzimba worked tirelessly in motivating the youth to become rangers, creating a vision of hope for young people to grow up respecting and protecting wildlife as he had.
“Something he shared with everyone he met, was that a field ranger should be seen as a hero, someone to aspire to become. Anton lived his beliefs, never wavered from his convictions and, above all, he remained a brave and honest man.
“Today is a heartbreaking reminder of the huge challenges our wildlife protectors face, and just how incredibly important it is to continue to support them in every way we can. We share our condolences to all those who have had the pleasure of walking alongside Anton. Those who have followed his journey, his footsteps, his passions,” said Timbavati.
“We also remind the public and media that, while Timbavati is cooperating with the authorities in the investigations that are under way, the reserve needs to remain confidential about the details of these at this stage,” read the statement.
Mpumalanga police are searching for those who murdered Mzimba.
Anyone with information can call Detective Sergeant Collen Nyalungu on 076 936 7222 or Crime Stop on 08600 10111. Alternatively, members of the public can use MYSAPSAPP. DM/OBP