Running Wild: Anti-Poaching in South Africa

A Minnesota-native has dedicated his life to end poaching in South Africa.

  • Minnesota-native Matt Bracken smiles while enjoying a day in the South African sun.
  • Filming Protrack trainees in February 2013.
  • Protrack offers 30-day training programs for those brave enough to endure the physically intense prep to combat African poachers.
  • Bracken and his crew are working hard to protect the animals people from around the world expect to see while staying in African safari camps like this one.
  • Rhinos are among the most critically endangered animals in the world and Protrack has successfully kept them alive in areas they protect.

In the years leading up to 1984, Matt Bracken was just your average 12-year-old kid, enjoying the outdoors in suburban Minnesota. But a summer trip changed his life forever. “I was on a safari trip to Africa when I was 12,” Bracken says. “Safari animals are hard to see when you’re on a safari . . . but the first animal I saw was a leopard, and then a pack of African wild dogs, and then an elephant; it was incredible, and that was day one,” Bracken laughs. “I’ll never forget the wild eyes of that elephant. That’s when I got the bug to save these animals.” The winding road from that moment until now has brought Bracken to Africa so often that it’s like a second home, and brought him to Protrack, an African anti-poaching unit, where he creates video footage raising awareness about poaching.

As of 2013, Bracken is the only American to graduate from Protrack Anti-Poaching Unit. The 1992 anti-poaching organization is the first private anti-poaching unit in South Africa, and offers 30-day training programs for men who want to combat poaching on the vast continent. Women can participate in shorter training programs specializing in different areas of the anti-poaching movement. Though there are unfortunately countless animals on the endangered list, there are many people, like Bracken, stepping up to fight poaching around the world. You can watch videos about Protrack and the training program on Bracken’s website.

According to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), black rhinos, with less than 5,000 in existence, are considered critically endangered. Located in Africa, black rhinos are hunted for a variety of reasons: food, trade, and money. The WWF claims that it is “not uncommon for five or six rhinos to be killed in one day.” Though Bracken is passionate about protecting all animals, he is focused on the rhino due to how extensively they are being hunted, and how critically they are endangered. Bracken and his team are constantly on the lookout for signs of poaching or dead animal carcasses, and then they trace the steps of poachers, hoping to break the chain of illegal and deadly attacks against the world’s most endangered animals. So far, Protrack has been successful. “There have been 130 rhinos killed within Africa, but none of them in the areas we protect,” Bracken says.

After a network reality show based on anti-poaching efforts in Africa fell through, Bracken began thinking about how to spread the word about anti-poaching through film festivals, or by a self-funded or non-profit effort to produce footage for mass consumption. With hours of footage already under his belt, Bracken hopes to get sponsorship from companies in the form of monetary donations or items such as shirts, vehicles, or gear the team could use while filming to give marketing back to the companies funding the anti-poaching footage. Bracken and his team need supplies and welcome any contributions.

Besides sponsorship, Bracken says the members of Protrack, many who often find it hard to come up with the money to enter the training program, could benefit from items like boots, shirts, and hats. Spending long hours on critical missions can also wear the anti-poachers down; Bracken says letters of encouragement are also a huge motivation for members of Protrack. If you would like to donate, write to Protrack, or get more information, go to Protrack’s website.