With poaching of elephants, rhinos and other iconic African animals reaching catastrophic levels, a new method seems to be working – declaring war on poachers.
Armed park rangers are using military tactics, such as hiding and ambushing poachers, which finally seems to be turning the tide for rhinos in parts of South Africa and could also work for elephants.
That’s when British troops provided military training to park rangers in the Reserve and Ichikowitz Family Foundation supplied much needed equipment to help them do their job. Park rangers have been so under-equipped they didn’t even have boots, reports Reuters. Now, rangers have rifles with scopes, torches or flashlights for night patrol, and other basics. Drones are also used to deter and find poachers before they kill animals.
Park rangers are up against well-armed crime syndicates which use funds from poaching for terrorist activities. For example, Al-Shabaab, a terrorist group aligned with al Qaeda, is raking in about $650,000 a month on the black market from poaching, according to England’s Daily Express.
Although some want poachers killed on sight, rangers are mostly using their new found skills to deter them. When they hear the bullets fly during target practice, poachers tend to run the other way.
Although the last rhino was killed on April 6 in Madikwe, poaching continues unabated elsewhere in South Africa – where the majority of rhinos live – demonstrating the value of the military approach. 825 rhinos have been killed this year, up from 668 in 2012, reports Reuters.
British soldiers are also training rangers in other South African parks, but in mammoth reserves like Kruger National Park – 40 times bigger than Madikwe and much more remote – it’s much more difficult to be effective.
Meanwhile, next month 25 British soldiers will arrive in Kenya to train park rangers to protect elephants in much the same way.
"By joining forces with those on the front line in Kenya, our armed services will be able to provide training and support to the courageous people who put their lives on the line every day to protect these animals," says Owen Paterson, Environment Secretary of Britain.
A sickening 30,000 elephants died from poaching in 2012 and 60 rangers died trying to protect them.
Kenya’s government is debating whether to raise the maximum penalty for poaching from the current three years in prison to a lifetime sentence and it plans to place microchips in all 1000 rhinos.
Namibia is taking a different, visionary approach. Environmental protection is in its constitution and communities are encouraged to form conservation areas to protect wildlife. The recovery of wildlife has been amazing, says WWF Namibia.
In July, President Obama issued an Executive Order to help stop trafficking and poaching of wildlife. The US will step up efforts to train park rangers, customs officials and police across Africa, Latin America and Asia, and will provide equipment, logistical and technical support to build capacity to combat trafficking and poaching in key countries.
"Wildlife trafficking has doubled since 2007, and is now estimated to be the fourth largest transnational crime in the world," says Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior. A Rhino horn is now worth twice its weight in gold, she says, and the US and Asia are among the biggest buyers of illegal wildlife products.
This week, the US announced a $1 million reward for information leading to the dismantling of one of the largest wildlife-trafficking syndicates in Asia. The target is a Laos-based syndicate, led by one businessman, which has a network that spans South Africa, Mozambique, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and China. The government is facilitating his efforts, making Laos a central transit point for trafficked wildlife.
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