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

 

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

Training Anti-Poaching Trackers in Zimbabwe

With trackers from the Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit at the end of a recent training exercise. 

Man-tracking is completely indispensable the anti-poaching. The better the tracker the easier it is to find and follow the poachers. The poachers know this of course and practice “anti-tracking” or “counter-tracking”measures to try and conceal their tracks or avoid leaving sign.

I watched a documentary on television recently where some well meaning former special forces soldiers were attempting to locate poachers by all means except cross graining for tracks in areas most likely to be traversed by poachers and of course failing.

Poachers are not stupid. Most of them were either guerilla fighters or counterinsurgency fighters or were taught by such experts who fought in the many bush wars in Southern and Central Africa. They know how to simply stand behind a tree trunk to conceal oneself from aircraft.

They also know they shouldn’t go near water points during the dry season as there will probably be observation posts set up to monitor them and so they carry large amounts of water, even if it means it will be backbreaking work and will slow them down.. They are patient determined and skilled.

Overcoming these tricks requires well developed tracking skills and a thorough understanding of counter tracking techniques.

Together with an expert tracker from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority I spent some time training the Bumi Hills Anti Poaching Unit trackers in the Omay area in Zimbabwe in advanced tactical tracking techniques.

Important lessons included:

Gender
This is quite easy to determine once one knows how. Women point their  toes more inward and most important the straddle (the width between the line of tracks on the right and left feet) is much narrower than a man’s.  In other words men walk with their feet further apart whilst women walk with them closer together or even overlapping (picture a catwalk model walking down the ramp and a wrestler strutting in the ring).

Determining Stature
The height of a person is directly proportional to their foot length. Roughly 6.5 the length of a bare foot will give the height. This varies according to ethnicity and other factors.

Determining Weight
The width of the heel is greater proportionally to the length of the foot the heavier the individual. The thinner the heel then the skinnier the owner and the thicker the heel then the heavier the owner of the track.

Determining Whether Loads are Being Carried
When someone carries a heavy load they take shorter steps, they point their toes more outward and their straddle widens (they walk with their feet further apart). Furthermore packs and other luggage will often be put down when resting and the sign left can tell what it is, i.e. box, water container, backpack, etc.

BHAPU trackers learning how to tell the difference between the tracks of someone walking unburdened and someone carrying a load. Leading up to the man piggybacking his comrade are his tracks. To the right are the tracks of the same man walking unburdened. Knowing how heavily burden a tracker is and what they are carrying can tell how slow or fast they are able to travel, whether they will need to find water or not and much else.

Ascertaining the weaponry being carried.
This   Knowing what weapons and how many of them a group of poachers is crucial information. A couple of trackers can’t take on a large group armed with AK47s and RPG7s. As with other burdens they will invariably rest the butts of their weapons on the ground when stopped. Every weapon is different and this mark left on the ground indicates what weapon left it. A well organized and experienced group of professional poachers will often have one heavy calibre sporting rifle for shooting the elephants and any number of assault rifles for use against wildlife protection personnel.

A heavy calibre  .458 bolt-action rifle designed to be used on big game such as elephant and smaller calibre fully-automatic  AK47 designed for warfare. Between and slightly above them can be seen the marks left by their butts when p 

Determining the Number of Poachers
This is relatively simple. Once the direction of travel is determined two lines are drawn between the tracks furthest apart from each other. The number of people can easily be determined within the sectioned area.

Breaking Down the Group.
Once the number of people is determined the trackers will assess the tracks of each individual thereby building up a picture of the make up of the group and what equipment and supplies they have. For example, “serious” groups coming from across the border in Zambia will travel in large, well-armed groups (they bring their own porters for the ivory), weartakkies” (canvas plimsoles), carry all their water so that they do not have to go near the watering holes and typically move faster. Local poachers on the other hand typically travel is small groups because they can call on porters from local villages, wearmanyatellas” (homemade shoes made from car tyres and tubes which leave very faint tracks) or go barefoot, travel slowly and carefully counter-tracking to avoid detection. These groups often know where and when scouts will be and therefore are less concerned about approaching water but will counter-track when doing so.

A Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority Scout explaining what information can be gleaned from the footwear of poachers. 

Basic Tactics
The advantage is with the poachers if they know they are being tracked as they can easily lay an ambush on their own trail. Therefore tracking unit tries to follow without alerting the poachers that they are being followed.

The usual formation is a tracker with an armed scout oneach of his flanks and moving ahead of him. While the tracker focuses on following the tracks, the scouts focus on protecting against any threat from dangerous animals or ambush by the poachers being followed.

I would rather not reveal the tactics used to arrest/engage the poachers. Suffice to say stop-groups and/or air support are preferably used whilst the tracking group focuses on “shadowing” the poachers and keeping track of their location.

In terms of picking up tracks in the first place patrols will”cross-grain” areas where it is difficult to conceal tracks but necessary to cross, such as dry riverbeds, game trails, “capped” areas, watering holes and other sources of water.

Counter-Tracking and Anti-Tracking
Experienced poaching groups use many methods to conceal their tracks or not leave any. Commonly this is done by not walking on ground that will leave tracks, such as stepping on stones, approaching roads, dry river beds and large game trails at a 45 degree angle and then leaving it at a different angle after crossing, walking backwards across roads on one’s toes and many other tricks.

This is just a taste of what an anti-poaching tracker knows and does. If there is interest in the subject I will happily post more.

 

Do you consider it morally wrong to kill elephants?

Answer by Rory Young:

Speaking as someone who has killed elephants my answer is yes.

In “normal” circumstances in today’s world it is ethically wrong.

I must point out that I am not against ethical hunting and in fact find it preferable to eat meat from an animal that has lived a wild life with the ability to raise its young to adulthood rather than meat from a farm-raised animal killed in an abattoir.

Normal circumstances do not include starvation, problem animal control (animals that are destroying lives and property outside of wildlife areas) and population control necessary to sustain biodiversity.

The reason I believe it is unethical to kill elephants is because they are so intelligent, possibly self aware as you have indicated and also because they are now believed to be able to empathize.

Whilst all species need to be protected to ensure biodiversity is maintained and whilst I have enormous respect of Arne Naess’ philosophy of deep ecology, the reality is that there is a difference, when it comes to the individual animal, between killing a jelly-fish and an elephant. We do need to respect the fact that elephants areunusually special creatures.

However, despite the fact that I believe it is repugnant to destroy such a magnificent creature, if it will save the species and ensure the survival of many through the revenue raised then I will not only keep silent on the issue of trophy-hunting elephants but will actively support it.

That does not mean I swallow all the bullshit from hunting organizations about all the money that is going from hunting into conservation. I have been investigating the numbers and I know it’s bullshit.

Having said that, I must now say that the most terrible thing I have ever had to do, no matter how necessary, is kill elephants. It is soul destroying and I have never felt anything other than deep sadness, bitter anger and depression after shooting any elephant , even when it was unquestionably mercy killing.

Following is an account I wrote about an elephant bull I had to track and shoot that had been wounded by poachers. Perhaps it can give some people a glimpse of what it means to kill an elephant and the tragedy of wasting their lives.

Just a Few More Seconds Old Chap

I squatted down to get a better look, the pack on my back swaying me slightly off-balance. I placed the butt of my rifle down on the ground to steady myself and a large drop of sweat plopped into the red, powdery dust. The elephant tracks were several days old. It didn’t really matter that much that they weren’t fresh enough to follow  because I wasn’t really looking to find their owner.

I had been looking for fresher spoor when something odd had caught my eye. It was a drag mark.

This was neither the usual scuff mark that was made just before the foot was placed, rather than after or as it was lifted in the case of men for example. Nor was it the often seen, playful doodling of a trunk in the dust such as a laid back chap might make as he wandered down to the water to drink. This showed a harsh, continuous line on the ground from the last track left by the front right foot to the current track left by the same foot.

It was obviously a front foot because the track was round in shape, rather than oblong which would have indicated a rear foot. I could tell which direction the elephant was travelling because of the five toe-nail marks left by the front feet and the four toe-nail marks left by the rear ones. Actually, the left front had for toe-nails. The elephant had lost one, which is not at all an uncommon find with older bulls. I noted this along with other individual “labels” in case I needed to follow him or recognize his tracks at a later time.

I knew it was his right foot for a reason which also told of the direction he was travelling; wearing on the sole. The “pad” of an elephant’s foot is covered in a network of fissures, which show in the track as raised lines. The thick pad expands as the elephant places his foot, putting his weight onto it, and contracts as he lifts his foot, taking his weight off it. This sole wears with age just like one of our shoes does. However, whilst humans can be both over and under pronators, elephants are strictly under pronators, so the pad always wears on the outer side and, just like a human, at the rear of the foot.

The wearing was on the outside, taking into account the direction of travel, so it was his right foot. Judging by the amount of wear and the depth of the fissures in his feet, it was obvious that the bull was relatively old; the older the animal, the more the wearing of the pad at the rear. I say old bull because the same fissures were very raised on the large track; females have finer and shallower fissures in their smaller feet, so they were not raised in the track.

Sometimes it is necessary to compare the depth of the fissures at hand with a mental image of a male and females tracks of the same size but in this case it was obviously male as the tracks were simply too large for a female.

Next I turned my attention to the size. The bull was roughly two point seven five metres at the shoulder. Easier to determine than one might imagine because the height of an elephant at the shoulder is around two and a half times the circumference of the front track.. In this case the track of this bull’s front foot was around a hundred and ten centimetres. This was not huge, but relatively large for the Mutusadona or the Omay, where I was now squatting.

The bulls here were on average thirty centimetres shorter at the shoulder than those in Hwange in the West of Zimbabwe and even shorter still than the incredibly tall elephants from the deserts of Namibia.

However, although they are small, they have proportionally long, thin tusks. Beautiful to see but weight-wise disappointing for trophy hunters as, although they look impressive they tend to weigh as much as a relatively short but chunky tusk from the West. Many an apprentice professional hunter, from the Hwange area, had come short by over-estimating the weight of these elephants’ tusks.

The size was another indicator of age and combining the size, wearing and fissure on the feet I reckoned he was about thirty-five to forty years old.

Then I noticed something strange. The bull had been running. There was distance between the front and rear tracks. When an elephant walks normally, his rear foot will be placed roughly half-way over the front track. In other words, the put their back foot down where their front foot was, the back one going down as the front one is lifted away; on the left and right side respectively.

When an elephant speeds up the gait changes incrementally up to a fast amble, and this is reflected in the tracks by a spacing between the front and rear tracks; from overlapping to just touching to a small gap and eventually a large gap when at full speed.

An elephant walks at around seven kilometres per hour and reaches a top speed, doing the fast amble I mentioned before, as they can’t trot, canter or gallop due to their incredible weight.
This was a strange combination because the bull was both moving relatively fast and dragging his front foot; sort of a fast limping-run. Dragging his foot either meant an old disability, such as some healed wound, at best or some recent injury at worst, and if he was trying to get away fast whilst in pain then he was very frightened and this would be for reason.

There were no other elephant tracks anywhere nearby. I thought about my recent walk to this point. Not only had I seen no other elephant tracks but I had seen no predator’s tracks from the time of the bull’s tracks either. Other than the usual plains game such as impala and water buck the only other tracks from around the same time were from local fishermen who had stopped and eaten on the shoreline. I thought about it, his tracks were about the same age. The bull’s tracks had the same contrast with the drizzle marks around it as the fishermen’s, so had been created at the time of the light rain we had had three days earlier.

I had another look round; the bull had been feeding in the thick Mopani and had rushed away from the direction of the lake, where the fishermen had disembarked from their boat. This was very unusual because the bulls in this area tended to hang around the same location and were used to people, so why did he bolt when he came across people? It was starting to look like his bad leg and people were connected. I suspected his injury had recently been caused by man.

There was no blood. In the case of elephants this is nothing unusual. Their skin is so thick that it will seal a wound quickly and completely. This unfortunately means that the wound doesn’t drain and hence infection is rapid.

I re-assessed. A 2.75m tall bull, probably in his late thirties or early forties, moving as fast as he could go, away from fishermen who had stopped on the lake-shore; I strongly suspected he had been wounded either by poachers or bad news hunters who had not reported the incident. It was time to call it in.

I headed back to Musango where I was freelancing at the time. Iwas mostly doing walking safaris in the Matusadona National Park on the other side of the Ume River from where I had just found the elephant tracks.

The area where the bull had been was part of Gache-Gache Rural Council’s CAMPFIRE Project.

CAMPFIRE, or Communal Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources,was an initiative to reintroduce and develop wildlife in the traditional or communal farming areas. Concessions were allocated and tendered out for both photographic and hunting safaris. Musango, Bumi Hills and Katete Lodges were all within the photographic safaris area.

Hunting areas were not far to the South from where we were but the operators were professionals and I found it hard to imagine them not reporting a wounded bull.

Steve,the owner of Musungo, radioed the National Parks Warden at Tashinga, the headquarters of Matusadona National Park.

At that time the warden was Zef, an older, experienced and no-bullshit officer with many years under his belt. I got along well with him, especially since my proficiency exam a couple of years earlier, when I had had an interesting time running into the middle of a heard of buffalos with him, on his say so, to shoot an old “dagga boy”. It turned out we both had the same attitude towards dealing with difficult situations with dangerous game, but that is another story.

Zef told Steve over the radio, “Wellensky or Young can shoot it in the Park if they find it has crossed over. Otherwise let me know if council are a problem and I will contact them”.

Colin Wellensky was an ex-Parks Professional Hunter with many years experience and was doing freelance walking safaris at Musango as well.

Steve then radioed Gache-Gache Rural Council based at Siakobvu. They advised that they would send the scout who was responsible for the immediate area to join us and that Colin and I should “check it out” and determine whether or not it needed to be shot, and if so, report back tothem for thego ahead.

A full day went by before the scout turned up. He was nervous and cocky and wouldn’t look us in the eye. Although his behaviour was a bit odd, we didn’t think much of it as we were more interested in getting going as the spoor was now four days old. Furthermore, more the most part the scouts were hand-working and dedicated as a rule and so deserved the benefit of the doubt.

Colin and I grabbed plenty of water and set off for the spot I had last seen the elephant’s spoor. Although the tracks were now four days old we followed them on the principle that he was probably not going to be able to move far and we would probably cut fresher tracks sooner or later.

After tracking him till the end of the day it clear that he was slowing down rapidly. Even more serious was the drops of stinking liquid that rayon the tracks. Clearly a very infected wound was suppurating. When an elephant’s wound reached that stage it was almost certain that sepsis would also have spread throughout his system.

Something else I noticed at this point was that his droppings contained hardly anything other than the Mopani we were moving through, not the normal healthy variety of foods needed to supply him with the nutrients necessary to sustain him. The outside of the dung was almost black with a varnish-like quality. This indicated very high levels of tannin. Mopani and other trees pump tannin into their leaves when browsed upon, and also message other trees downwind to do the same. For this reason an animal has to keep moving or the leaves will become bitter. Grasses do something similar with arsenic.

So, an elephant unable to move is going to get very high levels of tannin and arsenic in what he eats, in addition to a lack of necessary variety. Together with the infected wound this would ultimately cause a slow and painful death.

As the point we had reached was close to the Kariba Lake shore we decided to head back to Musango via a boat pick-up rather than sleep on the tracks.

On the boat trip back to camp we discussed the situation. We had no doubt that he was deteriorating extremely fast. He was also heading towards a fishing village. We couldn’t let him near people as he was now potentially deadly to man.

We had noticed this bull didn’t have anything wrong with the base of his foot because where he did put his foot down, obviously gingerly, it looked normal. We both suspected some other problem with his leg, and that was a bullet wound.

That evening Colin heard that he had to head out for some reason or other. There was a Learner Professional Hunter in camp, apprenticed to Steve who needed dangerous game experience, so I agreed that I would let him shoot or back up.

That evening a concerned couple asked me if we couldn’t bring in a vet to help. They even offered to pay for this.

We explained that infection spread so fast in such situations that a vet would be able to do nothing for him.

Just as importantly the amount of money that would be necessary to bring in a vet and dart and treat the elephant could be used to save many more elephants and rhinos through anti-poaching and other activities.

They immediately offered to donate the equivalent amount to anti-poaching and other activities.I was very impressed with their generosity and concern for our wildlife. They were Americans and I have had further occasion to admire many Americans for these selfless traits.

Lastly,the wildlife shared the area with people and had been reintroduced for mutual benefit; the locals benefited financially from photographic and hunting safaris and the animals would be free to roam where they once had before. That meant people lived and worked in the same area and no chances could be taken with the communities’ lives and property. In this case it was not only a kindness to the elephant to euthanize him, it was also a duty to the local people.

We set out the next morning whilst it was still dark and arrived on the shoreline where we had departed the day before.

Our council scout was waiting. He had fallen behind often the day before and we had not waited for him. He contributed nothing and still seemed jumpy. There was no love lost between us. He had his radio with him and a .458 but I made it clear he was to keep the radio off and the weapon unloaded. When embarking on a serious and dangerous task  it is necessary  to be focused, calm and aware.Some fellow constantly fidgeting and fussing behind you doesn’t help in any way and is more of a nuisance than a help.

We set off and very soon crossed fresher spoor from the same bull. We followed for most of the morning. By midday the spoor was as fresh as could be. He was now hardly covering any ground at all. We needed to end his suffering as quickly and efficiently as possible. We were very close to a fishing village and a person could easily bumble into him by accident. They wouldn’t stand a chance.
Even though the bull couldn’t walk properly because of pain and was so weak he was hardly moving,the sight of a person would trigger a surge of adrenalin through his body that would cover the pain and give him the energy to kill.

At this point we crossed the road dirt road that went from near Musango to Bumi Hills. I decided to stop and rest, as I knew we would be doing the final approach very soon.

I looked at Craig and realised that he was wound up as tight as a spring. The excitement was buzzing through him. This was the first dangerous game he had shot and I realised he was a likely candidate for a bout of buck-fever, so I told myself to keep this in mind and instructed him to get ready.

We chatted briefly about dos and don’ts and other bits and pieces and I checked his weapon and ammunition carefully. Then I told the game scout to stay well back and we got back on the tracks.

Within a couple of minutes we were in short but dense Mopani and couldn’t see further than our noses but I heard the bull rumble. We were next to a tree much larger than the rest, so I handed my rifle to Craig and started climbing. Half way up I had a good view of the bull who was only sixty metres away. He was upwind from us standing next to a large Mopani with one foot off the ground. Even from that distance I could see how his leg was grotesquely swollen. The tree he was under stood in a small clearing and I could see that we would have a clear shot from the edge of the clearing but that it was only twenty meters from the bull.

I climbed back down and headed back to the road, used the scout’s radio to speak to HQ and confirmed we were putting him down.
We began the approach carefully and about 40m from the bull I stopped and checked on Craig. He was so tense he was shaking and was breathing way too fast.

I told him we were going back. He asked why and I answered, “I need a smoke”. His jaw dropped and he went red in the face, then he followed me back to the road.

By the time we got there he had cooled down. Getting his mind off the hunt and getting him pissed off with me instead had worked and he was now pretty calm. I decided we should go back and get it done and that this time he would probably be okay.

Just then, a game drive vehicle from another concession came along at high speed and pulled up next to us in a cloud of dust. Two Learners climbed out with weapons, all talking at the top of their voices, as is polite among Mashonas.

They had heard from our scout’s radio chatter that we had found the bull and had requested permission from Council to also back-up. They announced this as though it were an instruction for me. So, of course, I answered no.

There was silence. I explained to them that I was conducting the hunt and therefore if was my decision. Furthermore, I was the only man present with a full license and I would not sign the letters they would need if they wanted the experience to count towards their exams so they could all f-off.

Without a letter they could not claim an animal hunted, backed-up or even accompanied. Then I got onto the radio to Council and let fly.

Council apologised and explained that one of the learners had over five years’ experience and had been chosen by a Pro Guide based at the concession who was known to me.

By this stage the learners attitude had changed remarkably and they were standing humbly, hat in hand, so I agreed that one could back up. But first I laid down the law and explained exactly how the approach would be done, making clear that they were not to shoot unless I gave the go-ahead.

We moved out and approached the point we had reached previously. There was no clear shot from there so we would have to move quite a bit closer.

I checked on Craig and saw that he was breathing smoothly and was focused rather than tense. Then I signaled to the other chap to join us. He did well and I relaxed somewhat.

I whispered to them that we would move up another twenty metres to the edge of the clearing and that when I gave the signal Craig should shoot. Once he had fired, the other chap should fire the back-up shot. Then I made clear that if the bull did not go down, because of the close proximity that I would deal with it. It would be too close to take any chances. He could easily kill us all from that close in a matter of a few seconds.

We approached to the point twenty metres further on. The bull was dozing. His misery was obvious. Yet despite the agony of his condition, I knew his will to live would be a deadly force if treated lightly.

Just a few more seconds old chap and your suffering will be over, I thought to myself.

I turned to Craig, slipping my own weapon off safety as I did so, and signaled to him to shoot when he was ready.

Craig fired, slightly too far back to be a heart shot, but not a bad shot. It was a common mistake with an elephant exactly side-on.

However, I had no doubt the bull would drop soon but soon would not be good enough.

The other chap’s back-up shot was terrible, straight through the guts.

These two shots had both happened within a second of each other.
Within another second the bull screamed and turned on us, immediately veering from the tree into a full speed charge at us.

A head shot on elephant is best described as “between the ears”. If you imagine a stick between the ear-holes then you are spot on.

Even better is to have a “3D” knowledge of where the brain is situated. Most importantly at short distance, aside from shot placement is focusing on nothing but getting it done.

At about fifteen metres as he was lifting his trunk to smash us, just a few steps for an elephant,I shot him through the brain.

The bull crashed to the ground as only as brain-shot can make happen. Then I walked back to Craig who was clearly wondering what had happened.

I explained that his shot was slightly too far back but still a kill-shot. However, not enough for us to have been safe waiting for the full effect of his shot to work!

Then I looked around for the other learner. He was nowhere to be seen. We eventually found him up the same tree I had earlier climbed looking for the bull.

Then, out of nowhere, people started appearing. In no time there were dozens of people armed with knives, axes and machetes ready to get stuck into the elephant. These situations can get nasty as people got out of hand and start fighting over more protein that they usually see in a year. People get hurt,so we organised leaders who would portion out the meat and clobber anyone who stepped out of line.

Finally I had a look at the elephant’s leg. The knee and most of the leg was badly swollen and full of pus. There was a small entry-wound in the knee.

Obviously, some bastard had shot him in the leg and not finished the job. The question was whether it was a poacher or hunter. There was no exit wound so Craig and I got to work extracting the bullet. At the same time we noticed the scout pacing around us, clearly a bag of nerves.

We located the bullet and it turned out to be a .458. The scout carried a .458 and was responsible for this area. However, so did most hunters. Then he snatched the bullet out of my hand, insisting that it had to go to Council who would in turn hand it over to the police.

Now I was really suspicious. I tried to insist that I hand it to the police directly but knew that I was wasting my time; I had no legal authority, whilst he was on his turf.

That evening, when we returned to camp, we immediately got hold of council on the radio. They explained that unfortunately the bullet had been “lost” whilst being transported to Siakobvu by the same scout.

I ground my teeth with the sheer frustration.

That evening I thought over the day’s events whilst sipping a Scotch by the campfire. The bull’s tusks were both over sixty pounds apiece. Not only had a magnificent animal’s life been wasted but if it had to die then his would have brought in a lot of sorely needed funds into the area for both the local people and the wildlife if he had been hunted by a paying trophy hunter.

I was glad to have ended the bull’s suffering and was pleased that Craig was a step closer to his full license and now had an elephant under his belt.

I kept my face and body calm and still for the clients also enjoying the campfire but inside I was boiling with anger at the attitude of a man who could wound an animal and then callously condemn it to a lingering and painful death.

I looked down at my clenched fist and sighed.


 

How do you deal with animal poachers?

Answer by Rory Young:

WARNING! This contains graphic images. It is not for children!

WARNING! This contains graphic images and is not for children!

There are two types of poachers.

Meat poachers poach mainly plains game to sell the meat or to eat themselves.
They are best dealt with by “normal” methods of law-enforcement, education, poverty alleviation and even integration into the wildlife management system.

These people are for the most part hungry and this type of poaching can be brought under control to the extent of game populations and biodiversity not being threatened. However, as in the case of the DR Congo and many West African countries, the bush-meat trade can get out of control. This is in large part due to a lack of will, effort and/or ability of the governments concerned to limit and regulate the practice.
Meat poaching is also tied to the poaching of gorillas for “muti” (traditional medicine). In the case of the mountain gorillas, the problem is more akin to the elephant and rhino poaching, requiring similar strategies and tactics to combat it.

 The bodies of four mountain gorillas killed in the Virunga National Park July, 2007

Rhino and elephant poachers hunt for the rhino horn and ivory to sell on the international black market. The ivory goes to the Far East and is used for trinkets and jewellery. The rhino horn goes either to Yemen to be used to make handles for traditional daggers (relatively small quantities) or to the Far East be used in traditional medicines (large quantities).

Rhino poached and butchered in 2011 in South Africa with her calf. (http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/south-africa-poaching.html#cr)

These poachers are usually ex-guerilla fighters or the like and are well equipped with fully automatic weapons, heavy calibre hunting rifles and at times even rocket propelled grenades. The RPGs and fully automatic assault rifles are not suitable for hunting and invariably wound, maim and cause suffering long drawn-out death due to infection and blood loss. (I have just written an article for African Expedition Magazine about what it is like to have to go and put down such animals. I will post the link on my Blog as soon as it is up). 

Increasingly White South African poachers with a background in wildlife, using helicopters, have been encountered.

The purpose of fully automatic assault rifles and RPGs is of course also for use against Parks rangers and scouts, army, police or anyone else that may try to stop them.

The policy of African countries has either been to:

1. Try and arrest the poachers. This is usually impossible and results in the scouts and rangers losing morale and and avoiding confrontations. The reason is that when tracking a group of poachers the advantage is all with the poachers as they simply have to lay an ambush on their own tracks. Walking along for long periods knowing that the enemy is directly in front of you and can easily open fire at any time really frays your nerves.

The only way round this problem really is to have helicopter and other air support and to “leap-frog” with an airborne tracking team and stop group who move ahead and cross-grain at potential sites, thus narrowing down the location and eventually cornering them. The poachers of course have counter-tactics such as splitting up and each going in a different direction.

Zimbabwe Airforce Chopper and crew.

Such air support is expensive and invariably provided by the military who are usually not brought in to arrest people. 

It is no coincidence that the countries that follow this policy of only arresting poachers also have the biggest poaching problem.

2. Shoot on sight. Zimbabwe was most famous for this policy and the military has been used to provide air and ground support for anti-poaching operations. It is no coincidence that the countries that follow this policy have had the most success in curbing rhino horn and ivory poaching. There are increasing calls for other African countries to adopt such a position. See: Minister calls for shoot to kill policy in Botswana

Dead Poacher

Now here is my own two cents worth. If groups of criminals crossing into your country, armed to the teeth and with a tendency to fight rather than surrender and if that is leading to the extinction of a species and increased lawlessness then shoot them on sight.

The problem has to be treated as a priority and a threat to “homeland security” and all branches of the armed services in the affected countries must be directed to support the Parks officers. It is a war and needs to be fought as a war.

I have answered this specifically as asked, i.e. dealing with the poachers. I answered another question separately about dealing with the problem of Elephant poaching in Africa in general: https://youngrory.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/what-would-effectively-stop-elephant-poaching-in-africa/

What would effectively stop elephant poaching in Africa?

Answer by Rory Young:

I mulled over how to answer this for some time because there are just so many things that can and must be done, I decided to look at the broader picture because no matter the effort of the brave few on the ground, without the will of the world’s nations to put an end to ivory and other poaching it is a losing battle.

There is currently a struggle between two very polarized groups of African countries (and their corners) on how to deal with the problem.

Firstly it is important to look at the three links in the ivory supply chain. These are the poachers, the traffickers and the consumers.

Firstly with regards to the consumers.
There are two approaches to the problem.

The first approach, promoted mostly by Kenya, focuses on ending the international legal trade in ivory.This ivory is from legally culled or hunted elephants in countries with large populations. It is believed that by doing so demand will dramatically reduce or dry up altogether.Those who support the theory believe that demand will dry up and their will therefore be no more demand.

The argument against this approach is that the demand will always be there and that the supply of legal ivory should be carefully controlled and funds funneled into wildlife management.

To give some context to these different approaches we also need to look at the different situations between these groups of countries. Zimbabwe for example has over 80’000 elephants and the population increases at about 3% per annum. Zimbabwe is in favour of limited trade in legal ivory. Kenya on the other hand has around 12’000 elephants, the population is decreasing rapidly and the Kenyan government is totally against any trade.

Where both groups agree is that the countries where this illegal ivory is going are not doing enough to discourage its sale.

Next we need to look at the traffickers. These are smugglers of just the same ilk as drug or blood diamond traffickers. However, their are much fewer controls and and because many of the States these traffickers come from have a very disinterested views of wildlife conservation, they are much more easily able to collude with the authorities in the countries they are shipping to. Like any illicit product, it is relatively easy to get it out. Controls and checks are usually at ports of entry not exit and as a result the methods, systems and infrastructure are not in place to stop exports.

The big problem again is the lack of will to get tough at the countries where the ivory is going. The customs departments are just not motivated to arrest and charge traffickers.

Thirdly we need to look at the poaching itself. The approach to stopping the poaching again differs tremendously between the two groups of countries mentioned before. In Kenya an ivory poacher will likely get off with a fine. In Zimbabwe he could be shot if he doesn’t surrender immediately contact is made with him and then he will face up to 7 years in prison (typically 5).

As you can imagine the group of countries with the vast majority of elephants also has the toughest policies for dealing with poaching. Most of them also support limited trade in ivory.

Whether supporting this is right or wrong, it will be impossible for the Kenya group to convince the others to change this until Kenya itself shows that they are really doing what needs to be done to fight the poaching itself. Iain Douglas-Hamilton recently said that Kenya is all that is standing between the poachers and the large Southern African populations. If that is true then God help us because if Kenya’s way of fighting poaching is with fines then they will have no elephants left soon.

Now to answer your question. I believe that Kenya has held an idealistic policy that has also not been supported by tough action. Realistic pragmatism is needed and a will to save what is left.

There needs to be an all out war on poachers in East Africa, supported by the African Union, as it is a cross border problem with harsh penalties imposed.

There needs to be international pressure and action against the traffickers and the nations that allow them to ply their trade.

With regards the consumers, the ivory itself needs to be made untouchable, taboo, illegal or dangerous. That can only happen if the governments of those buying get serious. Whether or not the trade should be banned, there should only be allowed a tiny amount of extremely expensive legal ivory sold to these countries. Any revenue should be proven to have been channeled back into anti poaching and other conservation efforts.

It is possible to win this war. I mentioned that Zimbabwe has 80’000+ elephants. Well, in 1900 there were less than 500 left.

The white rhino was reintroduced into Zimbabwe from South Africa after being wiped out completely and the Black Rhino was reintroduced into South Africa from Zimbabwe after being wiped out.

So, this war can be won but to win it needs money will and champions. All are in
short supply. What it doesn’t need is procrastination, half-hearted effort, hesitation or denial. It is a war just like any other war, it needs action and massive support to win it.

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