How important is it to save the world’s elephants?

Would you suffocate and starve your own children or let them be murdered?

That is exactly what you and I are doing by letting elephants and other “keystone” species race towards extinction.

I can certainly understand that many people wll imagine that I am exaggerating as this catastrophe is belived by pretty much everyone to be very distant.  I am not exaggerating at all and I will explain…

We need to stop this insanity now for the sake of our children and our children’s children. (Photo: Rory Young)

African, Asian and Forest Elephants are all amongst the most important “keystone species”. Their size and power combined with their eating habits mean that they literally shape their environment, “gardening” the forests and other habitats they live in, keeping the entire ecosystems healthy.

Forest elephants at Dzanga Baie in Central African Republic. (Photo: Rory Young)

These ecosystems, from the Congo Basin rain forests and the tropical and sub-tropical woodlands of Africa to the forests of South-East Asia are dependent on elephants “gardening” them.

Rain forests alone directly supply 28% of the world’s oxygen and are a key element in keeping our climate stable. They are only one of the habitats of which a large part are dependent on elephants to keep them healthy. Does anyone really believe our world could survive with a bit less oxygen in our atmosphere? Unfortunately not. Without healthy air we all, humans and animals alike, get sick and we die. Good luck trying to live a healthy life breathing even slightly polluted air.

Elephants are the largest frugivores on earth. Just as insects, bats and birds are critical to pollination, elephants are extremely critical to seed germination and dispersal. They have very poor digestive systems yet eat a huge variety of fruits and cover vast distances. The result is a major proportion of the different tree species having their seeds widely dispersed after being planted in a nice pile of elephant poo.

Other animals and plants are dependent on elephants opening up areas for them to access. I was recently in a park in West Africa where elephants are now extinct. The first thing that struck me was how impenetrable the forest now is. In a healthy forest ecosystem there is a maze of game trails and clearings where other animals and different species can move about, or young plants can gain a foothold…

All of this adds up. When we destroy the pillar of an ecosystem, we create a terrible domino effect.

There are now no elephants in 95% of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s forests. The DRC has the bulk of the Congo Basin rain forest. Recent studies have revealed that the African rain forests are now “browning”. No one has the faintest clue how badly that could affect us. However, no one is denying that it is a disaster of giant proportions. No one amongst those who even know about it of course..

We are heading for catastrophe. Add up all of the other areas where elephants are key to a healthy ecosystem and the situation is chilling.

Non-elephant (Photo:Rory Young)

This is not even taken into account when it comes to discussions on the effects on climate of man’s “progress”. We have yet to discover what the results of this disgraceful and stupid failure on the part of Africa, Asia and the international community will be.

It doesn’t stop there. The disaster only begins with climate change. The effect on agriculture and the economies in Africa will be devastating. The Sahara is already moving South, causing starvation and inter-ethnic conflict never before seen on this scale.

People are on the move and every year the numbers living in extreme poverty are rocketing. Those desperate people are prime candidates for recruitment by the number of terrorist and rebel groups proliferating rapidly across the continent. These groups are getting stronger and more popular by the day.

Has everyone forgotten 9/11? Does everyone believe they can contain extremism militarily? I guarantee you that unless we put a stop to the unfolding chaos, it will become, over time, far, far worse than ever before. This really is a global village in every way.

Welcome to the future. (Photo: National Geographic)

These masses of hungry people are also driving the bushmeat trade. The unprecedented Ebola epidemic this year was only one aspect of a dire warning. There were outbreaks in three completely different parts of Africa; West Africa (Guinea etc.), Central Africa (D.R.Congo) and East Africa (Uganda). This is the habitat of elephants. As we are wiping them out and raping their habitat, we are releasing unknown biological weapons on ourselves.

Refugee family fleeing inter-ethnic killing in CAR (Photo: Rory Young)

We are in a total war against ourselves and have not yet realized it. The world’s response has been less than pathetic. We are trying to fix the problem as it was, not as it is, let alone what it could be.

Here is the key to the problem and the solution. We are not separate from or independent of our environment. We are a part of it and are dependent on it being healthy. The elephant’s decline is not just the loss of a beautiful species, it is a reflection of the loss of the elephant’s environment, and if we lose the elephant’s environment, we will lose our environment. We cannot fix the looming sixth extinction just recently prophesied by scientists (USA today article) once it has happened:

The loss and decline of animals around the world — caused by habitat loss and global climate disruption — mean we’re in the midst of a sixth “mass extinction” of life on Earth, according to several studies out Thursday in the journal Science.
One study found that although human population has doubled in the past 35 years, the number of invertebrate animals – such as beetles, butterflies, spiders and worms – has decreased by 45% during that same period.
“We were shocked to find similar losses in invertebrates as with larger animals, as we previously thought invertebrates to be more resilient.” said Ben Collen of the U.K.’s University College London, one of the study authors.
Although big, photogenic species, such as tigers, rhinos and pandas, get the bulk of the attention, researchers say it’s clear that even the disappearance of the tiniest beetle can significantly change the various ecosystems on which humans depend.
“We tend to think about extinction as loss of a species from the face of Earth, and that’s very important, but there’s a loss of critical ecosystem functioning in which animals play a central role that we need to pay attention to as well,” said lead author Rodolfo Dirzo of Stanford University.
“Habitat destruction will facilitate hunting and poaching, and species will have difficulty in finding refuge given land use change and climatic disruption,” added Dirzo.

We cannot live without healthy wild areas. The cities we live in are not isolated little bubbles that exist without dependence on the rest of the world, they depend entirely on the supply of food and other resources that originate in the warzone that are our last wild places. Instead of interacting in harmony with the environment they need to sustain themselves, they are becoming out of control monsters, with ravenous appetites, sucking up resources and the sucking up of those resources is . The loss of the elephant will signal the beginning of the irreversible loss of our world.

This is not something I have heard or read about. I have seen all this happening with my own eyes. In the last year alone I have seen the inter-ethnic butchery in Central Africa on two separate trips there. I have spent six weeks in Guinea at the height of the Ebola outbreak. I have seen the slaughter of elephants with my own eyes over and over and over, all over the continent. I have watched the forests change over my entire life time. It is all very personal and in my face for me right now, and it is going to all get very personal and in your face for everyone else’s too, very soon.

If we cannot save the elephant then we cannot save ourselves.
If you are interested in avoiding the creation of hell on earth then please visit Take a Stand for African Elephants and Rhinos  or  Chengeta Wildlife or  Quorans For A Cause

Rory Young
12/01/15
http://www.quora.com/Rory-Young-1

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Should poachers be shot on sight?

Is it ever justifiable to shoot on sight? Is this a war? If it is then who exactly is the enemy?

I cannot think of any question that I have to consider more carefully, where my opinion, recommendation, advice or actions could have more tragic consequences if I am wrong.

I have over the years had to make the decision during anti poaching operations of whether my actions would be legally and morally justifiable. More recently however, I have advised governments on when, how and if their rangers, investigators and military can shoot, and the tactics that should be used against poachers in the field and I have trained many anti poaching trainers, leaders and rangers in tactics for dealing with poachers, showing them how by undertaking actual operations as part of their training.

The recent events in the United States, where the country is torn apart by the question of when it is acceptable to pull the trigger, should remind everybody of the importance of considering such a questions extremely carefully. Flippant answers to such questions are irresponsible at the very least.

The recent devastation of wildlife populations across africa, in particular black and white rhinos, and african and forest elephants also means we desperately need the most effective policies and strategies for dealing with poaching. Those need to be both morally and legally justifiable as well as effective. They also need to be politically acceptable, something that is incredibly difficult to achieve.

So, who are we going to kill?
Here is a picture taken by a friend in Central African Republic last year. It shows three children removing meat from the carcasse of a poached forest elephant. So, which poacher would you shoot first? The little girl sitting on the elephant carcasse, or the boy doing the butchering? How about the little girl on the right? She is armed with a machete…

Children butchering poached elephants at Dzanga Bai in Central African Republic.

These children were locals from the area of Bayanga in Central African Republic who accompanied a group of Sudanese poachers who had travelled from Sudan accross the CAR, an area twice the size of Texas, to massacre an entire herd of thirty six rare forest elephants. They were present at the killing and were given the meat by the Sudanese in return for showing them where to find the elephants. Therefore, according to the law, they are poachers. The same children will participate in killing animals if told to do so and will not hesitate. They are hungry, desperate and terrified of the men giving the orders.

Such poaching groups rarely restrict their activities to killing elephants. They are frequently employed by the Séléka and other rebel groups as mercenaries. They also engage in large-scale banditry, blocking roads and then looting, raping, kidnapping and murdering. They have taken part in the atrocities in Darfur and are recognized as terrorists.

Sudanese Séléka mercenaries, typically equipped. When not hired by rebel groups and certain pariah governments they spend their leisure time poaching and raiding in iEastern and North-Eastern CAR.

So are they “just poachers” or are they an enemy that needs to be destroyed? They often move in groups of up to one hundred and are mobile and well equipped, with vehicles and camels, and are armed with assault rifles, propelled grenades, heavy machine guns and often even anti aircraft cannons and armoured vehicles at times. They are a small army. However, they are also poachers. When they encounter law enforcement officers or any perceived threat to their activities, they not only open fire, but will also aggressively pursue the law enforcement officers/rangers/soldiers and will even direct revenge attacks against any nearby civillian settlements. They address the local people as “slave”, which gives a good idea of their mentality.

Can or should we define such people as poachers? Should they fall into a different category? They will certainly not surrender if approached by rangers. Yet we have to be aware that they will be accompanied by others who, although engaged in criminal activities, may be coerced or bullied into participating. Any plans to deal with these groups have to have developed tactics for tackling the worst of these while protecting the innocents amongst them. That is a very difficult task. Perhaps they should be defined by their worst crimes? Ethnic cleansing, murder and slavery. They are enemies of the country and therefore should they not be treated as such and fought as military invaders?

Who poaches, what they poach,why they poach and what they are prepared to do to attain their goal varies enormously. In anti poaching and anti trafficking operations that I have participated in  in West, Central, East and Southern Africa it is always different, however, there are certain obvious constants. Most important of which is the clear difference between poaching for commercial gain and subsistance poaching. All too often the poachers themselves are from similar backgrounds and very often motivated by poverty. The great difference though is that in the case of commercial poaching, whether for ivory or meat, there is always someone behind the scenes making buckets of cash out of the trade and it is these people who are the most culpable. When the poaching is an organized criminal activity the whole syndicate needs to be dismantled and broken up. Killing the poacher in the field is just cutting off one of the Hydra’s heads. The beast itself must be destroyed.

Subsistance poachers in poverty stricken areas just cannot be dealt with in the same way as commercial poaching gang members. A subsistance poacher is often both more desperate, driven by hunger, and less culpable as he has limited choices. If we are truly going to stop poaching, then we need to look as seriously at helping these people find other means of survival as at apprehending and punishing them. These people are also the most likely to be deterred by a shoot on sight policy. To shoot starving people would be an appalling crime.

Here is another picture showing women and children we apprehended early this year being escortied out of the protected area. They were part of a group of over forty people poaching buffaloes by shooting into the air and shouting so as to herd them into long lines cable snares. All those who were unarmed were released immediately after interviewing them and taking statements. Sadly, there were both armed women and children in the group.  This was a mixture of commercial and subsistance poachers. Commercial poachers came into the area and offered a share of the meat to villagers in return for participating. Should we have shot those women and children on sight?

Women and children apprehended as part of a large-scale poaching operation being carefully walked out of an area for release under guard to ensure their own safety as well as the rangers in case of signalling to other armed poachers.

What about mistakes?
Here is another scenario. I was prepared to shoot the man in the picture below. He was armed and was located at a position to where we had just pursued a group of poachers. As you can see, he is not in any way dressed as a ranger. He is wearing a red T-shirt and shorts and is barefoot. My team and I were convinced that we had one of the poachers in our sights.

The man was actually a ranger. He was part of a team in a boat positioned to cut off any attempt by the gang we were trying to outmanoevre, by cutting off any attempted retreat across a large river. The boat team had encountered the vessels used by the poachers to access the park. These poachers had laid fish nets before moving inland to poach big game. Their intention and past MO was to sell ivory, meat and illegal fish. They had large boats and were well equipped by a backer who expected to make good profit on all the different contraband. If they didn’t get lucky with ivory or meat, they would at least return with four boats full of illegal fish. Our ranger had changed his shirt on encountering the nets as it is dangerous to have buttons when working with nets.

He had swapped his uniform bush shirt and trouser for the soccer shirt and shorts and because he didn’t want to get caught in a net and drown and he needed to wade through the water and mud to get to the bank where he and his comrades hoped to intercept the team we were driving towards them. He had also removed his boots.. The rangers are not equipped with radios and instead use their personal cell phones to communicate (and pay for the air time out of their own meagre salaries). Unfortunately this was a spot without cell coverage and he was unable to advise that he had changed clothing and position.

We spotted him behind a large termite mound from a distance and prepared to shoot him if he raised his weapon to shoot at us. He had made a mistake. If there was a shoot on sight policy in place he would have been history as soon as he had been seen by our team. We shouted at him to drop his weapon.

The ranger in question believed we were shouting at a poacher on our side of the termite mound that he could not see. Fortunately he did not raise his weapon and instead, realising that we might not recognise him, backed away, raising his weapon above his head with two hands.

We immedaitely saw from its outline that it was an M16, something the poachers do not have access to in that area, and lowered our own weapons.

There is absolutely no doubt that ranger would have been riddled with bullets from the team if a shoot on sight policy existed. He would be dead dead dead. His children would be fatherless. The rangers would be demoralized. The poachers win.

Is a shoot on sight policy effective?
Congratulations! You just shot dead your best source of information! That is exactly what happens when a poacher is shot dead. Any opportunity to find out who is behind the business is gone.

To really stop poaching in an area it is necessary to cripple the whole illegal operation. It is a complex crime, requiring many participants and numerous steps. People have to fund the expedition. Someone has to supply weapons and ammunition. The poachers need to be transported, with all their kit to the area, sometimes guided in. Porters as well as poachers/shooters are needed to carry the ivory and meat. Officials, such as police officers, customs agents and even rangers have to be paid off. Different steps require different specialists, including shooters, buyers, smugglers, financiers and so on and on.

To effectively cripple poaching activities in an area, pressure has to be applied at all steps and to all the different individuals involved. A poacher is not going to poach if he has no ammunition for his weapon, cannot pay porters and has no one to supply and has his own ass in a jail..

By shooting dead all the poachers instead of professionally and legally questioning them to find out details of who is doing what, where and when, the authorities play into the hands of the brains and money behind these crimes. A dead poacher means nothing to the people who sent him other than they may have to pay a few nickels out of their millions of profits to send another one…

Killing professional rhino and elephant poachers  will certainly deter some. However, will it deter enough to drop the levels of those willing to take on the job enough to reduce poaching activity at all in an area? I’m afraid not. It may temporarily deter gangs from a particular area, in favour of easier pickings, but it has not worked as an effective deterrent against rhino poachers. The first country to issue order to shoot on sight and to indemnify rangers against prosecution or civil suits in the courts was Zimbabwe in 1989. Rangers had already killed 89 poachers in just one area of the country, in just a few years, before the shoot on sight order was given. After the go ahead was given, more poachers died and more and more came. It failed. It was clear that for every poacher who was killed another ten were ready to take his place.

So, who really benefits from a shoot on sight policy?
Killing poachers, rather than arresting them, benefits one group more than any other and that is the people who send them to poach. It also benefits the people who supply the weapons and the ammunition, and the equipment, the transport and so on. Instead of the whole criminal enterprise being brought down, the poorest and usually least educated of the criminals is silenced. He is easily replaced.

When is shooting justified?
In defense of human life. In the case of the Sudanese brutes I mentioned earlier, they need to be defeated militarily to protect the population and resources of the country. That is clearly justified warfare. That situation does not apply to a poacher working for a criminal organization. Both ethically and objectively it is important to capture him. Many countries in Africa, especially Central Africa, no longer differentiate between terrorists, bandits and rebels/terrorists. It is unnacceptable to treat subsistance poachers as terrorists.

Is it realistic to capture, interrogate and imprison poachers, rather than shoot them on sight? Is there really an effective way to control poaching in a given area?
The tactics necessary to shoot a poacher without putting the ranger’s life at unnecessary risk are virtually the same as those necessary to apprehend a poacher. Poachers cannot be apprehended in pursuit, they have to be ambushed or surrounded and surprised. Rangers killed by poachers have usually invariably been trying to catch them or attack them in pursuit from the rear and have themselves been ambushed.

Our organization specializes in developing doctrine, methods, skills, tactics and strategies for safely investigating, locating and apprehending poachers and traffickers in the field. We train rangers to use these methods to as safely as possible and to use the information gathered from pro active and reactive investigation to bring down whole sysndicates. We have trained over 100 instructors, investigators, unit leaders and rangers in the last year and have succesfully taken down whole syndicates and entire networks as part of the in-operations part of our training. We have worked with organizations this year such as UNOPS, The European Union and different National wildlife and forest departments, military special forces and law enforcement units.

Officers learning how to age tracks so as to ensure not approaching poachers too closely from the rear.

We teach these organizations not only how to coordinate tracking, observation and ambush teams to apprehend poaching gangs in the field, but also how to positively engage with the community to educate and sensitize them and build up relationships that everyone benefits from and which provides the necessary information to go after the people behind the commercial poaching. The most important asset in the fight against commercial poaching is the assistance of the community. They provide information on movements into and out of the area and other illegal activities.

Officers meeting with community elders in Guinea.

During in-operations training officers visit villages surrounding the protected areas and meet with community and religious leaders, hunting brotherhoods, political groups, officers from other authrorities and many more. Not only are the meetings invariably succesful in terms of teaching the communities why the protected areas are important and how they can benefit from protecting them, but the same communities provide the information on all the commercial poaching operations in the area and allow us to plan arrest operations. The interviews of those arrested give us all the information needed to aprehend the criminals those suspects work with. Further arrests lead to even more arrests and so on and on. The same applies to arrests of poachers in theprotected areas. One arrest leads to more arrests and so on and on.

Shooting someone dead creates a very final “dead end” and, if the aim is to gether information so as to bring down the whole network, it is therefore not only a tragic but a stupid action. To stop and deter poaching the sydicates and networks need to be torn apart. That requires an intellignet, necessarily complex and thorough doctrine that addresses the problem in its entirety. Shooting poachers in the field does not tear apart the networks, it simply protects them from discovery.

The devastation of Africa’s wildlife can be stopped and stopped a lot more easily and for a lot less cost than most people imagine. Our organization Chengeta Wildlife is proving that on the ground in the front line and in the communites in West, Central and East Africa. It can be done and we are showing the world how.

Sorry for the horrific and sad pictures. I often need to take a break from all of this and just remind myself why we have to win this. I will leave you with an image of how it can be..

How can we allow such scenes to be replaced with stinking, rotting carcasses on barren ground?

https://www.quora.com/Rory-Young-1

 

UPDATE FROM THE WILDEST AFRICA

I have very exciting news!

Firstly, the manual is out.

Secondly, I will, through ALERT and funded by Chengeta, be training the Malawi National Parks and Wildlife Department Anti Poaching Units.

Thirdly, through ALERT and funded by Chengeta, under UN OPS, be training the Guinea Parks Ranger Officers in Anti Poaching.

More to come soon too! In the meantime I hope you enjoy the full stories below..

Best wishes and thank you for all your support. We are doing great things together!

Rory

July 20 2014

Africa’s wildlife is under attack from poachers, and many species face imminent extinction if the killing continues at current rates.
The campaign group Save the Elephants estimates that between 2010 and 2012, 33,000 elephants were slaughtered for their ivory each year. Last year, 1,004 rhino were killed in South Africa alone. In the Central African region the illegal bush-meat trade totals up to 3.4 million tonnes per year, with poachers targeting primates, antelope, carnivores, rodents and fish.
Wildlife loss however is dwarfed by the illegal trade in flora. Currently, up to 90% of wood and wild plant products are believed to come from illegal sources.
With a projected human population increase in Africa of another 1.1 billion people by 2050, and increasing global demand for Africa’s wildlife products, continued poaching will lead to widespread extinction and large-scale deforestation, with impacts felt globally.
To address this complex issue, the African Lion & Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) and Chengeta Wildlife have published “A Field Manual for Anti-Poaching Activities”. The first publication of its kind, the manual presents the most comprehensive and pragmatic doctrine ever devised to bring the practice of poaching under control. Further, this doctrine utilises existing local resources and personnel with objective and low-cost solutions.
The doctrine has been developed by Rory Young of Bannon-Tighe Global Assessment Group –himself a professional tracker with 25 years’ experience, alongside a number of security professionals with experience in investigations, special operations, law enforcement, and S.W.A.T. training doctrines. The combined experience of these contributors has created a doctrine capable of tackling poaching from every angle and at every step of the process.
David Youldon, Chief Operating Officer for the Zambian based ALERT says, “Right now, organizations often end up latching onto some expensive technology or super-warrior as the magic formula to tackling the issues of wildlife protection. Generally, the feeling is that soldiers are the people for the job, and the troops are being sent in more and more. There are also many programs where serving and former foreign military men train scouts according to established military doctrine. This is just not the answer. Most of these troops are sent out and cannot find the “enemy”. They patrol around and around without ever even seeing a poacher. This is because poachers, although often skilled fighters, are not conducting a military campaign – and they are past masters at not being found. Conventional military practices do not apply. What is needed in this struggle is a comprehensive doctrine, developed specifically for the complex and organized crime that poaching is, and that addresses all the problems with objective and inexpensive solutions.”
Co-author Rory Young explained that through ALERT he intends to provide training free of charge to Africa’s anti-poaching units to increase their effectiveness. The doctrine and training includes: pro-active and reactive investigation techniques to understand the movements, areas of operation and modus operandi of poachers; surveillance and tracking skills to locate the poachers – developed with many years’ experience and incorporating aspects of anthropology, podiatry and forensic science; apprehension techniques to ensure a safe and effective method to capture poachers; and most importantly, how to prevent poaching in the first place. He says, “Training is conducted within local and international laws and adapted to local conditions and sensitivities. Wherever possible local trainers are to be used, and, the training of local individuals able to provide future training, is always the primary goal. What we need is for these improved techniques to spread like wild-fire.”
Lisa Groeneweg of Chengeta Wildlife, who is overseeing fundraising to implement the training programmes, explains, “At the moment we have sufficient funding to continue offering training courses for the next few months, but we urgently need more donations to meet the huge demand from African governments and anti-poaching units for training, as well as sponsors of the manual so that we can provide all rangers and scouts working in anti-poaching in Africa with a copy”.
To read a sample of the manual click here.
To purchase an electronic copy of the manual, and help fund the training of APUs in Africa visithttp://goo.gl/d80Kwz
If you are interested in becoming a sponsor of the manual so that free copies can be provided to APUs in Africa, contact info@lionalert.org
If you would like to make a donation to support this cause you can do so here.

SECURING MALAWI’S NATURAL HERITAGE
The Southern African nation of Malawi has not escaped the scourge of poaching that is decimating wildlife populations across the continent. In many of the nation’s protected areas some species have already gone extinct, with many more in peril. The most recent estimates suggest that only around 30 lions remain in the country.
ALERT has offered assistance in the form of anti-poaching training to enhance the effectiveness of existing operations. Agreement has been reached with the Department of National Parks & Wildlife to bring the heads of anti-poaching for all of Malawi’s national parks together to undertake an intensive training course starting this August that will include training in how to pass on their knowledge to their anti-poaching teams when they return to their own parks. Training will be funded by Chengeta Wildlife.
ALERT is extremely proud to work with the Malawi Department for National Parks & Wildlife to support wildlife protection in the country.

ESTABLISHING WILDLIFE PROTECTION IN GUINEA
There has been no formalised body of national park rangers in Guinea since 1966, a country that holds one of the last remaining lion populations in West Africa. Scientists believe that only 250 adult lions remain in the whole of West Africa, with Guinea forming part of the Niokolo-Guinea lion area that includes parts of neighbouring Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Senegal. A small sub population of perhaps only 5 – 8 individuals also survives in Guinea’s Upper Niger National Park.
A 2-year pilot initiative to implement a wildlife protection program in the country has begun – funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) in partnership with the Republic of Guinea’s Ministry of the Environment, Water and Forests. The aim is to support the Ministry in the creation and application of a new corps of rangers in three of Guinea’s protected areas: Upper Niger National Park, Ziama Massif Biosphere Reserve and Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve. The project was also conceived with the aim of reintegrating ex-combatants, and in providing support to the regular army in the context of regional insecurity. UNOPS are currently in the process of rehabilitating the operational bases of these three sites, and selecting and equipping 38 officers and 290 rangers. If successful, activities may be extended to a total of 4000 rangers across the Guinea’s protected area network.
Basic training of the officers and rangers will commence in August. One major training area needed for the project’s success is training in anti-poaching techniques. To that end UNOPS have reached agreement with ALERT to provide training throughout October and November 2014. Training will be funded by Chengeta Wildlife.
ALERT looks forward to working with the Republic of Guinea and UNOPS in supporting wildlife protection in this region.

It’s time to stop the killing

How To Catch Poachers (in a nutshell).

How To Catch Poachers (in a nutshell).
In order to bring poaching under control, it needs to be tackled at the market, in transit, and on the ground. I will focus here on the problem of tackling the poaching on the ground.

“We want to raise funds for a drone”, the well-meaning head of an NGO tells me with excitement in her voice.

“What do you need a drone for?”, I ask. I admire her enthusiasm, but my frustration has also clearly shown in my voice, despite my best efforts.

“For anti-poaching of course”, comes the confused and slightly irritated reply.

“Which part of your strategy requires drones, what type of drone, to do which particular job, and how much will the drone cost”? I ask.

The lady flushes, “Well, we are working with [famous former military officer now selling hardware] so-and-so who knows all about them”, she answers, now clearly irritated.

This is a very common scenario. Involved individuals, governments and NGOs are usually unclear as to how and what exactly they need to do to slow the massive poaching onslaught. They have no comprehensive doctrine/strategy/tactics/you-name-it for dealing with poaching.

Right now organizations often end up latching onto some expensive technology or some super-warrior as the magic formula. Generally, the feeling is that soldiers are the people for the job and the troops are being sent in more and more. There are also many programs where serving and former foreign military men train rangers and scouts in weapons handling and battle tactics. This is just not the answer.

Most of these troops who go in cannot find the “enemy”, they are conventionally trained. They patrol round and round without ever even seeing a poacher.  Poachers, although often skilled fighters, are not conducting a military campaign, and they are past masters at not being found. It is a game of cat and mouse and it needs the right cats!

What is really missing and is really needed in this struggle is a comprehensive, intelligent and pragmatic doctrine that addresses all the problems and offers objective and inexpensive solutions, preferably using existing local resources and personnel. 

I am absolutely certain that this is possible and that the right doctrine, with the necessary training and implementation will work. I am certain of this because I have, together with others involved in wildlife protection, developed a doctrine and implemented it successfully. 

Firstly, three problems have to be solved. The first problem is where to look for the poachers. Sending in assault troops or game rangers to figure this out is a waste of time unless they have been trained in pro-active investigation. Expert investigators are needed. 

Investigations can be both pro-active and reactive. Pro-active investigations go hand in hand with working to benefit people who are extremely important to the effectiveness of the wildlife protection operation; the community. The community has to be engaged to assist in efforts and must if at all possible benefit from the tourism and other revenue and prestige earning and job-creating activities. If this is done, they will invariably assist and that assistance is key to determining where to look for the poachers.  

To access a wildlife area requires passing through the adjacent areas, usually on foot. Poachers usually also require the assistance of neighboring communities for caching weapons, transporting food, water, and equipment, and of course for carrying ivory and other spoils. The eyes and ears of the community are an invaluable and effective means of gathering information on poachers’ movements into and out of wildlife areas, and in the case of community wildlife areas, within the areas as well. Investigators or scouts /rangers trained in pro-active investigation gather information from the communities, previous poaching activity from the field provided by tracking teams, other organizations and captured poachers and build up a detailed picture of poacher movements. 

I have been working with Jacob Alekseyev, a former Major in the USAF and Federal Agent in the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations who has been developing this part of our doctrine and a genius in this field. He has many years experience and the best education and training available for such investigations and his knowledge has been very much missing from the mix.. till now..

These movements once learned and understood seldom vary to a large degree because they are based on necessity. For example, where to find water or where a cliff cannot be climbed or a croc-infested river cannot be crossed and so on. This narrows down the search area considerably, thus requiring less “boots on the ground”.

The second problem is how to find the poachers once their movements, area of operations and modus operandi are understood. This requires both surveillance and the world’s oldest science; tracking.

Children in rural villages in most parts of Sub-Saharan Africa grow up tracking goats and cattle and even wild animals. They have highly developed skills of observation and an innate ability to read sign. This does not mean other people can’t do it. It is just like reading, even an adult can learn to do it, but a person who has done it from early childhood will always be more able to become expert at it.

During the Colonial and other wars in Africa during the last century, tracking was used as an effective means of finding and following insurgents and anti or counter tracking was used to hide one’s presence in an area from casual observers. In fact, it was by far the most successful method of locating unconventional enemy forces and was used on all sides of all conflicts to one degree or another. 

There is absolutely no difference between the locating of poachers in a wildlife area and the locating of guerrilla fighters in any area. Together with cleverly located observation posts, this is the only really successful way of finding a poacher. Aircraft do not help in this role as poachers are well known to just stand behind a tree and avoid them. There are of course silent, high altitude drones out there and of course they can play a clear role in surveillance, assuming they can do a better job than the equivalent cost number of highly trained and well equipped trackers, but Africa can’t afford thousands of them and and they scare the hell out of our governments, so let’s not go there..

People who have never seen an expert tracker at work do not usually realize how good they are at it. Imagine a person being able to follow someone’s trail with their eyes the way a bloodhound can follow a man’s scent trail with his nose. Many can do it at a run with hardly a glance at the ground every once in a while. These people can be trained and their skills developed to a phenomenal degree to the point where they can follow one man’s trail into a busy village and out the other side before continuing for days on end. 

This is my specialty, I have been doing it since I was a little kid and I have been doing it professionally for the last twenty five or so years. I trained as a professional guide under the Zimbabwe Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management and over the years I have developed my skills tracking both animals and poachers and have also taken a different approach by collecting and studying scientific papers on everything from anthropology to podiatry to forensic science in order to bring my skills into the twenty first century. I have been putting together this part of the doctrine as well as implementing our ideas in the field. 

The third problem is how to arrest them. It is both hard and dangerous for the trackers to do because when following someone it is always the follower who is at a disadvantage. The poachers can either try to out-pace you, slow you down by counter-tracking (hiding or disguising spoor) or they can ambush you. The job of the trackers therefore is to locate, follow and thereafter monitor the movements of the poachers and pass this to the coordinator of the operation.

To apprehend the poachers requires a different set of skills to the investigation and the tracking/surveillance teams. The rapid response team needs to get ahead of the poachers. They need more tactical and special weapons skills. Getting ahead of the poachers can mean parachuting in, helicoptering in, boating or driving or, more often these days, running for a position where the poachers are likely to pass, and where they can be surprised. 

Jacob and I are working with a third writer for this part of the doctrine.  Our third contributor has both a background in special forces in the military, and a SWAT background in law-enforcement, but is still working and so chooses to remain anonymous for the security of his family. We believe our combined skills, knowledge and experience put into writing and taught to wildlife protection personnel all over the continent will make a major difference.

Our work is well-advanced and we are almost finished writing a “Field Manual For Anti-Poaching Operations”. Once published we plan to get as many copies as possible into as many hands as possible of people involved in all parts of wildlife protection, in government, NGOs and as many different parts of Africa.

I have been training anti-poaching teams in this doctrine and this has been funded recently by Chengeta Wildlife – We train wildlife protection teams. If you can, please spread the word about their efforts to publicize and raise funds for wildlife protection training – Poachers Are Targeting Africa’s Elephants

Lifting Snares and Dodging Charging Buffaloes in The Omay Area of Zimbabwe.

I hate wire. Whilst it may look like a harmless barrier for most people, to many of us it represents pain, death and the desperation of hunger and poverty.Whilst elephants and rhinos are usually poached using guns, more animals as a whole die horrible deaths from snares made from plain old fencing wire.These are typically set, often in lines, along game trails frequented by the targeted species of animal or even any animal. The intention is usually for the poor victim to be caught round the neck and strangled. Such a death is slow and agonizing, usually lasting days.Anti-poaching teams spend a lot of times searching for and removing these snares.

A Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit Scout Holds Up a Wire Snare Removed from The Omay

Sadly, many other animals, including elephants and other big game get limbs caught in snares and end up dying just as miserably and even more slowly.

Remains of a buffalo killed slowly by a snare which can still be seen wrapped around the face.

With the economic crisis many poor people in Zimbabwe have turned to snaring, hunting with dogs and other forms of poaching as a way to supplement their meager diets with some real protein. Even worse, some unscrupulous individuals have turned this into an industry, snaring on an industrial scale so as to sell the meat for financial gain.

Whilst I was working with the Bumi Hills Anti Poaching Unit recently we received information that this was taking place in a neighbouring concession. The team of poachers would sneak in, lay snare-lines, scare a herd of buffalo into running through it, kill and butcher any caught and then lift the snares and go, leaving little trace.

Reports came in of lots of cheap buffalo meat being secretly sold in nearby villages. In the space of two weeks four buffaloes were also found wandering around with snares attached to them. Although the nooses had tightened the buffaloes had broken the wires free from their attachments to trees or even torn the tree out of the ground.

One morning, just as I was about to set off on a training patrol with the anti-poaching team, word came in of a buffalo with a snare around its leg in a nearby area. Andries Scholtz was on his way by boat from Kariba to dart it and remove the snare.

Andries holds a dangerous drugs license from the veterinary department which authorizes him to purchase and handle dangerous narcotics and to dart animals.

We offered to assist and joined up with Andries by boat. The young female buffalo was lying next to the shore near a gulley shielded by bushes.

Unfortunately for us she moved into the gulley. This would make the approach to dart her and the four minute period before the drugs took effect much more dangerous.

We moved along the shoreline and around a “point” and moored the boats there. It was far enough away to be out of earshot from the buff and downwind from where the buffalo was hiding in her gulley, so a good place to begin the approach. Andries began preparing the drugs and dart gun.

Someone would have to “back up”. This means shoot the animal if things go wrong and it charges. Mitch Riley and I and I are both licensed for this work. As I had a video camera we agreed that we would both go in with Andries but Mitch would back up and I would record the event.

I admit to being nervous about this. I have followed up and shot many wounded buffalo and checked out many but rarely without a heavy calibre rifle in my hand and never whilst looking through a viewfinder. I would have to trust Mitch to make the right call and do what would have to be done if it became necessary. Zimbabwe is well known to have the most difficult and rigorous licensing system in the world for Professional Guides and Hunters. An important part of the training is the shooting of dangerous animals that have to be put down at close range. The experience and training are so hard that very, very few ever make the grade.

Once Andries had his dart-gun ready we discussed the approach. Andries would go in first, followed by Mitch and then myself. Any trouble and Andries would drop back and Mitch would take over. I would keep filming as long as possible.

We set off upwind towards the buffalo’s hide-out. The mopani scrub gave us enough cover but we had to step carefully as the ground was littered with dry leaves which made a loud noise when stepped on. We hoped that she would still be in her gulley and not on the top of the bank.

We crept up and found her wedged into her hiding-place.

Andries fired the dart which sounded like a champagne cork popping whilst Mitch kept his rifle trained on her. She burst up the bank through the bushes and bolted away from us. Now the race was on to find her. The drugs would take effect in four minutes. We began to track her.

After four minutes we hadn’t yet caught up with her. Andries called in all the helpers to spread out and search quickly rather than track now that she was unlikely to be on her feet. Within a minute someone found her. Everyone raced to where she lay and got busy.

Andrews daughter Kylie brought his drugs and he began monitoring the buffalo and getting the antidote ready while Kylie’s friend Dean began cutting off the wire wrapped tightly round the animal’s ankle.

Although the wire had not broken the skin because it is so thick (much, much thicker than a cow’s-more like an elephant in fact) it had obviously stopped the blood flow. It was also still attached to the stump which had been torn out of the ground making it even more difficult for the buff to walk.

Just when the wire had been taken off and things were looking good, she stopped breathing. Andries immediately gave her some of the antidote and told everyone to get ready. He couldn’t wait any longer. She was not responding well and her breathing was stopping and starting. He had to revive her immediately.

Everyone picked up the equipment as Andries injected the rest of the antidote into her. Most of the group were sent well back whilst Andries, Mitch and I waited with Dean to see whether she would be okay. She got up. She looked at us. She was not happy. I decided to keep filming as long as possible.

Andries told us to get ready to run. I looked back for a suitable tree to go up and saw none. Oh dear. She charged.

Initially she headed for me but then veered towards Mitch who was over to my right. I waited for the rifle shot.

Nothing happened. Another split second passed.

The buff is on the left now and you can see Mitch’s arm on the right. Bear in mind that this is all happening in split seconds. 

Still he didn’t shoot.

Closing in..

By now I’m wondering what he is planning as he hasn’t raised his rifle. I would have shot it by now.

Mitch begins to side step her as I turn to run:

You can just see him starting some sort of matador move as she turns past him. Riley is as Irish as a name can get. I didn’t know they were part Spanish though..

Unfortunately I was no longer thinking about filming but instead about saving my skin so didn’t get much on camera after this.

Having missed Mitch she swerved my way. Dean threw his pack at her, which is the blue thing in the following picture, just as I began to do a neat turn into a sprint. She ignored the pack completely.

The view from the camera of Dean throwing his pack just as I begin to destroy Usain Bolt’s best time.

She turned away and having made her feelings known she headed off. None of us were hurt and thanks to Mitch’s judgement she is still alive and kicking.. Or charging rather..

After she went past him he aimed to shoot if she didn’t turn away and looked about to gore someone.

Laughing and letting off steam after the adrenaline rush!

Andries and his family do this work for free and never turn down a call out. Very often they also cover all the costs of the exercise out of their own pockets. This amounts to many animals a month. I feel honoured to know these people. It is thanks to all the efforts and sacrifices of people like them that there is still hope for Africa’s wildlife. And if this war that is being fought to save the animals is ever one it will be thanks to the efforts of the “small”, great people like Andries and his good family.

Thank you family Scholtz!

How smart are elephants?

Answer by Rory Young:

“The animal which surpasses all others in wit and mind”, said Aristotle.

Mature Female African Elephant

Since Aristotle and long before, people who have been privileged to spend time observing and interacting with elephants have expressed similar sentiments.

They have been trained for thousands of years to do everything from play soccer to destroy the enemy on the battlefield. They were the tanks of the ancient world and the front end loaders and the tractors.. Their size and strength are of course second to none.

There are many tales and legends told about elephants both long ago and today in many different languages and among very different cultures. What is so telling about these stories is that they don’t usually go on about their incredible size and strength because that is obvious. What they all eagerly tell is of the great intelligence, formidable memories and complex nature of these gentle giants.

Now I have to be honest and say that when people ask me how clever a particular animal such as a lion for example is I usually say, “a lion is a genius at being an lion”. What I am trying to say by this is that every animal has evolved to perfectly fit its niche and may be very dumb and doing what doesn’t benefit it and very clever at doing what does.

However, when someone asks me about Elephants, I get very excited and my little story about all animals being geniuses goes out the window. I immediately start comparing them to us. Here is why.

Like us elephants are self-awareThis has been proven scientifically through a number of recent studies. In one study an elephant called Happy would touch a white cross painted on her forehead, a test used to test self-awareness in children. She could only see it in the mirror:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/61004…

Elephants practice altruism. There is a now famous story of an Indian elephant called Chadrasekhan who was working lifting poles off a truck as it moved along and placing them in holes dug in the ground. When Chandrasekhan came to one hole he refused to put the log in. Eventually the Mahout checked and discovered a dog sleeping in it. Only when the dog was gone would Chandrasekhan put the pole in. This sort of behaviour is typical of elephants.

Elephants really do have long memories. Elephants eat an incredible variety of foods and need to cover large distances to  get it. They need to know where to go at what time of year. They learn this and remember it. They also have complex communication and societies and so need to remember all the different individuals’ voices and smells so as to be socially adept. The result is they have incredibly good memories.

This is also shown in the size and development of their brains which are proportionally 0.08 percent of their body-weight while that of a horse is 0.02 percent of its body weight. This was all figured out be a scientist called Herbert Haug. He also discovered that the brains of elephant and humans are both highly convoluted, which increases the surface area of the brain.

I once had a love hate relationship with an elephant at Fothergill Island in about 1991. Every day I would drive out the front gate and a bull elephant we called Left Hook (he had extra curve to his left tusk) would charge my vehicle. And every day I would rev my engine and bang the door and tell him to sod off and then we would go our separate ways. Every single day this happened without fail. If other vehicles came and went he would ignore them and then go for mine.

One day I went out in a different vehicle, stopped nearby and watched for a while. The wind changed, he caught my scent and of course we went through the whole noisy rigmarole again before I was allowed to leave with my by now completely traumatized tourists.

More recently it has been found that spindle neurons play an important role in the development of intelligent behaviour. Spindle neurons are found in the brains of humans, great apes, dolphins and elephants.

There are many other behaviours exhibited by elephants such as grieving (see my answer to What non-human animals grieve?), playing, mimicking  producing art and using tools, all of which serve to show their flexible and powerful minds.

Elephant painting in thailand.

However, what I found most amazing is their problem-solving ability. To illustrate this, and because I risk happily waffling on forever, I will leave you with one last story:

Working Asian elephants sometimes wear wooden bells. The young elephants will deliberately stuff them with clay so that they can sneak into banana groves without being heard in order to steal as much as possible!

A wild bull elephant “playing” with legendary Zimbabwean game ranger Willie De Beer. The bull could kill him in an instant if it wanted to..

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How many teeth does a hippo have?

Answer by Rory Young:

Common Hippopotamus:
Young hippos have thirty two milk teeth including three incisors, one canine, four premolars on each half of the jaw on both sides.

Hippo skull

Adult hippos have thirty six teeth including two incisors, one canine, three premolars and three molars on each half of the jaw on both sides.

However! Adult hippos can retain some of their milk teeth for some years after developing their adult teeth meaning some hippos can have as many as fourty teeth for a few years.

The largest teeth are commonly referred to as tusks. These are the canines.

The front incisors are commonly referred to as fighting tusks as they are primarily responsible for inflicting wounds during fights.

Male Hippos Fighting

I have found a number of dead males killed during fighting over the years. In every case the dead animal had been bitten through the spine. Interestingly this is also the way male lions tend to kill each other when fighting (The mane protests male lion’s necks).

The Pygmy Hippopotamus
Young  Pygmy hippos  have the same configuration of milk teeth as common hippos, consisting of 32 teeth.
There are 3 incisors, 1 canine and 4 premolars in each half jaw. Canines of an adult pygmy are huge and can cause serious injurie

Adult pygmy hippos only have 34 teeth, so 2 less than in the common hippo.
These are  2 incisors, 1 canine,3 premolars and 3 molars in each half of upper jaw, 1 incisor, 1 canine, 3 premolars and 3 molars in each half of lower jaw on both sides.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fil…

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