How will the rhino/elephant slaughter in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Kenya be stopped?

Answer by Rory Young:

There needs to be a convergence of several factors.

The first is political will. If the leadership  of a country is not prepared to do whatever it reasonably can to bring it under control then it will very likely be a losing battle. The government is obviously the most powerful organization in any country, able to mobilize resources and services,  to educate and motivate the population and to enact laws and penalties. This is the single most important factor. Malawi, where Chengeta Wildlife is funding training, is determined to win. The new government there is quickly trying to do whatever it can to deal with the poaching crisis.

The second is resources. Elephant and rhino poachers are earning big money and are well equipped and motivated by large sums of cash. They have usually come from a background in an armed service and are expereinced. They are actively trying not to be captured or killed and therefore the rangers who pursue them have to be even better equipped and trained, with ample fuel and rations to get to where they need to be at the right time. Unfortunately, resources are lacking almost everywhere. I have worked with dedicated rangers in the past who went barefoot, had no packs, waterbottles or other equipment and minimal or  no rations. Many are not even paid. Even with the most dedicated men only so much can be done without the right equipment. In the case of Malawi, it is one of the world's poorest countries. They simply do not have money to spend. They need financial assistance in this from other, wealthier, nations.

The third is doctrine. Unless the department and its rangers know how to take down whole syndicates, at every step of the poaching process, even with the political will and with excellent resources allocated, it will be difficult to win. They have to have strategies, knowledge, training and procedures that are harmonized from the man on the ground all the way up to the top commander and in cooperation with other agencies. The Malawians have partnered with Lion Alert and Chengeta Wildlife to get the most pragmatic and effective training possible done as quickly.

Ideally, political will, sufficient resources and an effective and intelligent doctrine are needed. I have yet to see that happening anywhere..

How will the rhino/elephant slaughter in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Kenya be stopped?

What does it feel like to find a dead rhino or elephant that has been killed by poachers?

Answer by Rory Young:

During anti poaching operations I try to suppress any emotions mind and focus on the job at hand. That is not always easy or even possible. Sometimes the emotions come out later, especially when I return home to my family.

When the carcass is fresh, it is crucial to secure the area and quickly build a profile of the tracks before launching a tracking pursuit of the poachers. This also has to be coordinated with mobile apprehension teams, stop groups, observation posts, headquarters, et al. Other authorities also have to be advised. As I am usually engaged in “in-ops training”, that means I am both involved in the operation and instructing. Therefore, thankfully,  I am very busy and able avoid thinking about it.

It is very difficult when you have found a beautiful animal butchered and know, for whatever reason, that the poachers are long gone and you are too late to follow. At such times I feel a mixture of sadness, anger and frustration. I try to calm those emotions and channel them into determination and dedication.

The worst time of all for me is when everything slows and you have time to think. The fatigue, anger and after-adrenaline as well as all the thoughts and memories can be overwhelming. I think the following picture shows just all of that on the faces of Malawian rangers I was working with recently.

On these operations, although we were able to successfully pursue and arrest poacher gangs, we also came across a dead rhino. He was a sub-adult bull. He had died as a result of wounds from a snare around his neck and from injuries inflicted on him by an older bull.  There were no poachers to follow so we had a lot of time to examine the scene and to think about it all before moving on.

It was tough. The men had been training hard for weeks and were excited about using their newly learnt skills in the field. This threw a huge blanket of negativity over everybody, especially since there were no poachers to pursue. It was also an important opportunity for everyone to realise that at such times we can only use the memories created to drive us on later when the going gets really tough, after days without sleep, without food, thirsty and dirty. Those are the times to remeber these horrible, frustrationg images and use the emotions to grit one’s teeth and get up and go once again.

Rangers all respond differently. Believe it or not, some don’t even care. However, that doesn’t mean they are not effective and professional. Some are motivated byt different reasons. It is not my place to judge them. As long as they are effective and dedicated to getting the job done, that is enough for me. Others are openly angry and will let their feelings be known. Usually the men are silent when the carcass is found and for a long time afterwards. Words are meaningless at such times.

Who do you think is the most resourceful person you have seen in your life and why?

Answer by Rory Young:

The most resourceful man I have ever met had nothing. He didn't own a damn thing. In fact, neither did his wives or children. They didn't need to own things. When they needed, they confidently went out and got what they wanted and returned happily to enjoy it.

Old Ba'aka hunter near Bayanga in Centralfrican Republic.

I have been priveledged to observe and interact with people in many countries, from many classes and backgrounds and in many professions. Everywhere I have been I have met resourceful people. Yet none can compare to the traditional hunter-gatherers. Being resourceful is their way of life.

Young Ba'aka pygmy girl. I took this picture at a mission where, a few days later, Anti-balaka fighters dragged muslim men out of a building where a Polish Catholic priest had been bravely hiding them, and then cut them to pieces. The Ba'aka who lived in the mission area fled into the forest, taking with them a young Polish volunteer woman, whom they kept safe until the Anti-balaka moved on.

Most recently in the Central African Republic I was over-awed and inspired by the Ba'aka pygmies hunt for their food in the rain forest. In spite of the ethnic war had come to them, they had continued in their uniquely cheerful way to live their full lives with nothing any "modern" man or woman would consider indispensible to comfortable living or even necessary for basic survival.

I was priveleged to spend time these two Ba'aka gorilla trackers, tracking a habituated gorilla group.

They do not just survive in forest, they absolutely thrive there, only struggling in areas where their world has been invaded and changed by outsiders.

Alpha male Western Lowland Gorilla in Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve in CAR.

In February this year I sneaked into the South Western part of CAR, via Cameroon, and was able to spend some time with the Ba'aka there. I found that the most harmless people in the world live amongst some of the most dangerous people in the world, in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Little angels with sharpened teeth and tattoo'ed faces..

Louis Sarno and his family, with other Ba'aka out net hunting.

I tracked gorillas with them and learned some amazing tips for my own work. They are incredible in the forest, not dominating it, but a real and balanced part of their ecosystem. Their resourcefulness really showed when I followed them on a traditional net-hunt. This is a team effort. A group of men an women will use clever techniques to catch animals in hand-made bark nets. I watched them direct a wild blue duiker with sound, alternately making it run or stop by using different calls. I have never seen anything like it.

The Ba'aka are facing terrible odds right now. The wildlife in the forest that sustains them and that their traditional culture would preserve, is being wiped out. The warfare has forced them to move from their traditional areas, often into primal forest in other countries and worst of all they have been hunted, killed and even eaten by rebel groups. 'Pygmies': Health and violence

I was honoured to meet Louis Sarno who has devoted his life to helping the Ba'aka. He has lived with them as a leader, helper, healer and friend for decades, giving up everything to do so. I look forward to one day seeing him and his Ba'aka family again.

I can only live in hope of being able to spend time with them again and that more importantly they will be left in peace in their natural home.

Who do you think is the most resourceful person you have seen in your life and why?

Will Ebola become an epidemic? Is it the start of the end of the world?

This most definitely is the end of the world!

Answer by Rory Young:

This most definitely is the end of the world!

And now I will clarify that. It is the end of the world for the families and communities being devastated by this horrifying disease in West Africa. It could also destroy many more communities. Many of the comparisons being made to other diseases are unrealistic in that they are not taking into account the fact that the disease has not stopped spreading and communities and individuals have not made a habit of the necessary preventative practices necessary to stem the tide.

This dreadful scourge also has the potential, unless the world wakes up, to devastate vaste areas of Africa and beyond, not only killing, but causing economic and social turmoil. Whilst unreasonable and misinformed panic is a danger, so too is complacency. On the one hand, flights to the affected region should not be stopped, as this could prevent health workers and other important personnel from getting there to help. On the other hand, it would seem the world is not panicking enough as there is not enough money being pledge or given to help do what must be done to stop it.

I am stunned at how many people are only interested in whether or not it will be a threat to their own country or region and only judge the danger on its likely impact on their own communities. Instead they should imagine how badly it hit if it were to spread, God forbid, to somewhere like the Central African Republic or one of the many other poor conflict zones.

Lastly, the comparisons to malaria and other diseases wiping out Africans would be much more understandable if the world actually cared about the ravages of those other diseases. Sadly, the efforts to deal with those too are underfunded and understaffed.

What a cynical bunch we six billion are..

Will Ebola become an epidemic? Is it the start of the end of the world?

How has such a poor country like Malawi been able to make such great leaps forward in protecting its wildlife whilst wealthier countries …

Answer by Rory Young:

A team of rangers, including undercover officers in civilian attire, about to go in and ambush buyers and traffickers in a "sting" operation. No high technology here – there isn't the money – the key is rangers skills in investigations, intel gathering, planning and dogged pursuit and  apprehension..

Let's be honest; Malawi has been hit harder by poaching than many countries. However, although one of the poorest countries in Africa, it is kçalso known for its friendly, hard-working and peaceful people. It has been known for many years as "The Warm Heart Of Africa", a title that suits the beatiful place perfectly.

I was fortunate to live in Malawi as a child. I remember clearly the first time I tried to track lions on my own. I was eleven years old and a pride had passed along the river that ran along the bottom of my aunt's garden on their farm North of Mzuzu, close to the Tanzanian border.

"Farm" was hardly an apt description, although they did grow tobbacco. My cousins and I spent our days chasing around the bush looking for animals and playing with the children from the local villages. My cousins had a variety of pets, including a four-foot African rock python, two tiny grysbok deer, a duiker, a crazy African Wild Cat, amongst others that came and went.

I had spotted the lion tracks while looking for snakes with a couple of tumbuka kids and, whilst I had decided that it would be a damn fine idea to follow them, my friends declared me mad and left. So, off I went.

Fortunately for me I didn't catch up to the lions before it started getting too late and so I turned back and headed home. Thank goodness I did or I most likely would not be writing this now. Anyone who has seen a lion's reaction to  just a child's voice from a game-drive vehicle, or when seeing them through a fence, will know how appealing children are to them, in the worst possible way..

I have many vivid memories of Malawi from my childhood, some sad and many happy. One thing I will never forget is the majectic beauty of the place. From montane forests, to the magnificent lake, to the teeming wildlife. The wildlife is no longer teeming.

I saw a poacher for the very first time in Malawi. He was driving a truck loaded with skins and meat past my uncle's property across the border into Tanzania. I remember the ivory carvers who openly plied their trade on the main street of Blantyre. Even with those signs, I would never in my childhood have imagined the terrible scourge that would obliterate the once mighty herds of elephants that roamed freely.

Many countries in Africa are in this situation, but malawi is different in some important ways. It is saying no to poaching and taking a real stand. Firstly, the country needs tourism. 60% of the country's foreign currency earnings. There are no diamonds, there is no gold, and there is little local industry. Tourism is one of the few ways for the country to earn sorely needed foreign currency.

Secondly, the country and its parks are relatively small. They are not gigantic areas that have just been left to themselves. They can be effectively protected more easily than some of the massive wildlife areas in neighbouring countries that would require legions of rangers to patrol them.

Thirdly, and most importantly, it has the political will. The government, at the highest levels, actually wants to put a stop to poaching, and to teach its people the importance of wildlife. The country recently decided to included teaching in its schools on the importance of wildlife and the reasons that poaching is wrong. Incredible. I recently conducted a training course for the heads of the anti-poaching units for all the parks in the country. At the passing out parade the minister of tourism stood up to make his speech. I almost fell over when I heard it. He openly and honestly listed the failings of his country in the past to protect its wildlife, even listing the decline in numbers of key species. That was nothing though, he then announced that we had uncovered rangers involved in poaching, something we were of course keeping secret from the outside world, and told the gathered crown that they would be made an example of and shown "no mercy". Wow, after all my years in wildlife and conservation and running around  this continent, this was the first time I ever heard a politician speak like this. I was then asked to step forward as he would like to thank me personally for my work and for the support and work of the organizations that paid for and arranged me to be there, Chengeta Wildlife and Lion ALERT.

He shook my hand, and, looking me straight in the eye, he said, "please tell your colleagues that we do not take this for granted and we are going to show the world that we can win this".

I train rangers to locate and arrest poachers and traffickers. Usually it is pretty thankless work and one often has to fight frustration and even depression because of the lack of support and the apathy of governments and even the men. This government however is determined to win and the rangers themselves are second to none.

I heard as a child the stories of the brave men of the King's African Rifles fighting the Japanese in Asia. Nyasaland as Malawi was known in those days was renowned for the bravery and dedication of the soldiers who originated there and served in the two battalions raised by the British to fight in far away places. I have seen for myself why the Malawians were so sought after. They are tough, they are determined, they are hard working and they are brave. they also have an amazing sense of humour, which invariably shows itself when most needed to raise spirits.

Malawi doesn't have money for drones and helicopters. They have realised they have to be clever they have to be willing to do what is necessary, and that is what they are doing. Working with the communities, they have a "revenue sharing system" which gives 25% of revenues from the park to the communities around the area.

I was brought in to train the heads of anti poaching for a very good reason. The training we have developed, under Chengeta Wildlife and Lion ALERT and now with the assistance of the University of Coventry, is primarily pragmatic. We do the best possible with the resources available. It is also effective, no BS, just get it done. During the recent training we actually took down a whole poaching syndicate, with buyers and traffickers and identified several others in their entirety. Rarely do you hear of such successes in countries with much better equipment and funding.

The difference is this; everybody at all levels in the Malawi Department of National Parks and Wildlife is determined to win. From the Minister down to the Director and on down to the men on the ground. There are a few bad eggs but they will be dealt with "mercilessly" I have no doubt, and those wonderful rangers are going to carry on kicking ass because they have the support of their leaders.

How has such a poor country like Malawi been able to make such great leaps forward in protecting its wildlife whilst wealthier countries …

Reviews of: A Field Manual For Anti-Poaching Activities

Answer by Jon Davis:

What Rory Young and Yakov Alekseyev have done with A Field Manual For Anti-Poaching Activities is to create what must be the most all inclusive doctrine for combating the specific problem of international poaching that exists today.

I was shocked at the level of detail in this document and how it addresses so many concerns that apply specifically to the poaching. What I felt reached out to me immediately was that the team correctly identifies that the solution to international poaching won't rely in militarizing the rangers who combat them, but on a holistic approach to combating poaching on all levels, with deterrence as the key. As a veteran of the Iraq war and Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, I see this thinking overused and abused regularly; fund a problem with money and weapons and they will have the power to overcome any obstacle. This is incorrect thinking, often put out by people ill informed of most world problems and relying on mostly legendary accounts of the performance of units such as the Marine Corps and the US Navy SEALs to combat the specific problems these units were designed to overcome. People who don't understand the military don't realize that this approach can not solve all problems, but only those that involve direct confrontation. In the case of poaching, by the time direct confrontation becomes an issue, you've already lost.

What the Field Guide does is lay down an introductory framework for any regional government concerned with the effects of poaching. It addresses all the questions that need to be answered from, "How do we establish contacts with Poaching Networks?" to, "What should our surveillance strategy be?" to, "How do we train our rangers in successfully tracking, stalking and catching poachers in the act?" and dozens more questions that each nation needs to answer for themselves.

I was most impressed by the amount of thought that went into preventative measures as opposed to direct intervention. I thought it was nuanced that a major part of the solution laid in the use of current and former poaching communities to gather information and the structured communication system to channel that information to implementation experts.

The part I enjoyed the most was the analogy that brought the whole thing into perspective. The write up paints a clear image of what modern, even very well funded anti-poaching forces face when dealing with poachers. In the classic story Robin Hood we see a story of poaching funding what might as well be considered terrorist activities. They were heavily outnumbered and outgunned by the King's army, however, the Merrymen were able to routinely evade capture and outwit the Sheriff in his pursuits by utilizing guerrilla style operations that defeated the hardline military approach. When we consider the way that most people solve problems today, be they dealing with insurgency and terrorism to poaching of wild and endangered animals, I very much think the analogy landed. I believe that it makes the case for the development of a complete system to combat poaching rather than just giving untrained and unorganized rangers bigger guns.

What Young and Alekseyev have done is provide a powerful structural aid to those who, as a nation, wish to help solve the problems of the illegal harvesting of wildlife, but as yet, lack the doctrine with which to do it. I believe this is a strong step in the right direction to take the desire to stop poaching to an implementable strategy to do so.

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