Rhino War

Major General (Ret.) Johan Jooste with Tony Park (Ingwe Publishing, 2022, 268 pages)
Reviewed by Ken Bailey



Rhino War is a fascinating read describing the staggering level and sheer brutality of rhino poaching in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, and one man’s Herculean efforts to stem the losses.


In 2012, Johan Jooste, a retired South African general, was hired to lead Kruger’s anti-poaching efforts. He was selected for this role in large measure because of his military experiences, as South African National Parks (SANP), desperate to reduce the overwhelming rhino losses, wanted to introduce a paramilitary-like approach to combatting poaching. Jooste describes in great detail the unanticipated challenges he faced, from opposition within some ranks of the SANP system and a reluctance to change by many of the park rangers, to chronic underfunding, and a largely unsympathetic government in Mozambique, from where the vast majority of poachers originated.


Co-written by Tony Park, an established Australian writer of thriller novels and non-fiction biographies, the crisp and clean writing style encourages the reader to continue turning the page – there’s no fluff here.


Jooste quickly discovers that protecting Kruger’s rhinos isn’t merely a local operational issue, it’s heavily influenced by national and international politics, and success requires that he become a rhino ambassador, mingling with government officials, royalty, the media and wealthy patrons as he strives to garner the support and funding required to fulfill his vision and, ultimately, save the last great rhino herd on earth.


Jooste is clearly a man of many talents. Not only does he prove to be effective in recruiting support at the highest levels, he also shows himself to be a capable boots-on-the-ground leader, describing in fascinating detail many of the thrilling and dangerous anti-poaching operations he took part in, side by side with the unheralded rangers who risked their lives on a daily basis. And make no mistake, as Rhino War teaches us, anti-poaching is, often times, literally a kill or be killed exercise, reflective of the huge money in the rhino horn trade coupled with far too many poor and desperate people willing to do anything to feed their families.


Overcoming myriad hurdles along the way, after several years Jooste is not only able to put the brakes on what had been a growing problem, but with the help of technology, generous private funding, a revitalized and recognized ranger team, and the true grit of a military man unwilling to fail, he ultimately succeeds in reversing the tide.


Rhino War will interest anybody with a passion for Africa’s great wildlife. It provides an insider’s look at the insidious challenges of poaching, how vast an impact poaching can have on both a local and regional scale, and how significant the personal and financial resource requirements are to conserve our threatened wildlife for future generations.