When anti-poachers asked a village how to help, the answer was a football league.
As a child, Matt Bracken developed a love for Africa’s wildlife, which lead to his becoming a safari travel specialist. From there, he became an anti-poaching ranger for ProTrack in South Africa. Protrack has 300 rangers in Mozambique who fight rhinoceros poachers.
Being quite photogenic and manly, Bracken’s ProTrack job lead to a stab at making a reality TV series about the ranger life. (You can view some of this on his Youtube channel.) Around the same time, he founded the Wild and Free Foundation with his youtube videographer Rohan Nel and Protrack founder Vincent Barkas.
A better way to reduce poaching
Both the rangers and the poachers are heavily armed, so that both sides suffer fatal casualties. However, Barkas now realizes that killing the poacher is counter-productive. If a poacher dies, he leaves many family members without a source of income; the survivors end up resenting both the rangers and the rhinos. And because of the vast poverty in Mozambique, new recruits quickly replace the dead in an endless cycle.
In a new approach, the Wild and Free Foundation went to the villages and asked how they could help. The answer led to the creation of the Rhino Cup Championship League in 2017. Just as how early English churches organized football as a way to get young men off the streets, the villages asked for help with football.
The Rhino Cup gives young people new alternatives, new role models, and also builds community spirit. The league runs from Apr-Sept. The mens league has played 3 seasons from 2017-2019, and the inaugural season for the women’s league was 2019. In 2019, there were 6 Women’s teams and 12 men’s teams. Matt Bracken’s cousin wrote a good article in Feb-2019 about the league and the Foundation.
Ways to help
Director Myles Pizzey’s story of the Rhino Cup is well-done and is a good promotional video for Bracken and his U.S.-based foundation. The film shows the rhino carcasses found in the parks, stripped of their horns and sometimes their hooves. The documentary also does a good job capturing the locals excitedly supporting their teams.
However, how effective football is as a deterrent or diversion is difficult to measure. I consulted a relative who also fell in love with Africa and now runs his own African travel agency, Safari True. He and his wife lived near Kruger/Limpopo National Park for several years and trained to be park rangers. Here are his thoughts:
Protrack has been “quite effective, although, at times, bringing a para-military mindset to the fight in poaching can be problematic. Most of the poaching done in South Africa is led by foreign syndicates that are heavily funded and armed, and who are just using the local community members to do their dirty work. While poaching is a bad thing, targeting locals is not the best answer as they are just trying to provide for their families in an area with little opportunity.
Mandy and I feel that the organizations that have the greatest impact are the ones located on the ground as the funds and support go directly to those in need.”Dan Chaknova, Safari True
In the Kruger region, 2 projects recommended by Safari True are The Good Work Foundation and Nourish. Both projects focus on uplifting communities and addressing poaching by fighting poverty in these rural areas.
7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7