On Thursday, March 7, Animal Planet premieres “Battleground: Rhino Wars,” a new series that follows four U.S. special forces veterans as they head to the Kruger National Park of South Africa, just north of Johannesburg, to help park rangers and local security forces battle the poachers destroying rhinoceros populations.
Unfortunately for the dwindling rhinos, their horns are in high demand in Asia and other parts of the world for their supposed medicinal properties. According to a report in the U.K. newspaper The 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 shotguns and compasses; they’re armed with sophisticated GPS systems, helicopters and semiautomatic weapons.
Former Navy SEAL and team leader Craig “Sawman” Sawyer tells Zap2it, “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 former 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 he has a soft side.
“It feels like the right thing to do,” he 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 of Game Reserves United, “It’s just wildlife. There’s no mines; there’s no farms; there’s nothing.”