In their front-line war on poaching, the men of Protrack must train and operate like an elite special forces unit.
In the summer of 2011, American adventurer and activist Matt Bracken applied and was selected as one of 20 men to potentially join the Protrack Anti-Poaching Unit (APU).
The APU was formed in 1992 as the first private force against illegal hunting in South Africa. Renowned for their abilities, Protrack is hired by game reserves of Africa when poachers become more then they can handle alone. During his training, Bracken shot an immersive documentary detailing how the APU prepares recruits to battle poachers.
The training to become a member of Protrack is brutal, tantamount to that of some of the most elite military units in the world. Recruits undergo 30 days of intensive training to test their physical and mental strength. If they survive, they’ll spend the next two years serving as an official APU soldier.
A typical day for a recruit can include being awoken by gunfire, crawling in the the dirt and running miles on end. They undergo training on weapons, hand-to-hand combat, tracking and basic survival. They also drill on interrogation and arrest techniques, and learn to patrol a park to search for signs of poaching. Like bootcamp, a sergeant coaches them through the process, chewing them out when they fail to meet expectations.
Like any elite, physically-demanding program, the dropout rate is high. Only ten days into Bracken’s training, five people have quit. However, the experience has brought the ones that remain closer together. The men become just a like close-knit military unit, developing incredible camaraderie and calling each other “brother.”
Poachers and militia will often kill to avoid capture, and the men realize their lives will soon be in each other’s hands. Their teamwork is soon put to the test when they encounter a field where four endangered rhino have been killed. One kill is fresh, and the team is sent on their first real-world assignment: find the poachers.
Approaching nightfall, the men camouflage themselves in dark paint and begin the hunt. They encounter a suspect and confiscate a cooler full of illegal meat, but their target flees and escapes.
“We’re here to protect the animals,” he says “So, one snare at a time, one poacher at a time, saving one animal at a time, will go a long way.”