Anton Mzimba, who worked as the head ranger at a reserve in South Africa, has been the target of repeated assassination attempts. According to an interview that he gave a year ago, he tried not to allow the warnings of danger get to him by telling himself that by saving rhinos he was fighting for the larger good.
Since Mr. Mzimba was murdered on July 26 in front of his family at their house, the tightly knit conservation society that exists in Africa has been in a state of shock. Even though she was shot, he managed to save the life of his wife. Concerns have been raised as a result of the homicide about the possibility that organised crime syndicates are becoming more bold and brutal in their pursuit of illicit wildlife goods.
Timbavati Private Nature Reserve is a protected area in the Greater Kruger landscape that spans 206 square miles and is home to elephants, rhinoceroses, lions, leopards, and cheetahs. Mr. Mzimba, who is 42 years old, was the top ranger of the reserve. In a setting that was rife with illegal hunting and bribery, Mr. Mzimba had a reputation for being unflappable and a staunch supporter of environmental protection.
Ruben de Kock, the operations manager for the professional training firm LEAD Ranger, made this remark about Anton Mzimba: “If you want to speak front line, you talk Anton Mzimba.” “He was the very definition of a ranger.”
After being contacted by phone, Brig. Selvy Mohlala, a spokeswoman for the police unit that is handling the investigation into Mr. Mzimba’s death, said that “we do not know whether the assault had anything to do with his profession or private life.”
But Andrew Campbell, the chief executive of the Game Rangers’ Association of Africa, said that this would appear to be the most likely motive given the number of serious job-related threats aimed at Mr. Mzimba and his efforts to thwart crime syndicates. Mzimba had been the target of a number of serious threats related to his job.
Mr. Mzimba’s passion to preserving animals “definitely” appears to have been an influence, said Edwin Pierce, Timbavati’s warden. “Anton was a guy of integrity, a man who wouldn’t waver from protecting rhinos,” he added. “Anton was a man who was unwavering in his commitment.”
Every day, rangers all around the globe put their lives in peril, but the risks that they confront in Africa are among the highest in the world. Poachers are always armed, and in politically unstable regions like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, paramilitary groups regularly conflict with rangers. Poachers target elephants and rhinos because they are the most valuable animals.
According to Mr. Campbell, of the 565 African rangers who are known to have been killed in the course of duty since 2011, about 52 percent of the killings were the result of murders. According to him, the number of fatalities has also been on the rise, reaching a record high of 92 rangers in the most recent year, with fifty percent of those deaths being due to murder.
The death of Mr. Mzimba, on the other hand, stands out as “an escalation from the usual,” according to Mr. Campbell. “Now that things have settled down, these syndicates don’t think twice about physically going in and carrying out mob-style hits.”
According to Mr. Campbell, it is also possible that Mr. Mzimba was the target because of the prominence he has in the community of people concerned with animal protection and conservation. In addition to receiving the Field Ranger of the Year award, he will also star as the main character in the forthcoming documentary film titled “Rhino Man.”
According to Julian Rademeyer, head of East and Southern Africa for the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, South Africa in particular already suffers from “very high levels of killings related to politics and organised crime.”
According to Mr. Rademeyer, if the individuals responsible for the death of Mr. Mzimba are not brought to justice, it would have a chilling effect on future rangers and “will convey a message that these types of actions go unpunished and the individuals involved are practically untouchable.”
According to the Institute for Security Studies, just 19 percent of murder cases in South Africa have been solved. Mr. Pierce and his colleagues, he said, have been “frustrated” so far by what they see as a lack of urgency and “slowness” in the investigation. Mr. Pierce said that this has been the case up until this point.