Not enough gun?
In a recent meeting in the USA, African leaders from 50 countries or so came together to discuss security, trade and governance. An interesting mix of topics for sure.
Some four leaders, from Namibia, Togo, Gabon and Tanzania also took time to discuss the illegal wildlife trade in a side event.
“When asked what they would like from the US to combat poaching, the overall consensus was equipment. The ranger death toll is escalating, as they are deep in a war in which they are outmanned, outgunned and under trained.
Namibia asked for helicopters, Tanzania requested night vision goggles, Togo wants infrared scanners, and Gabon-military support.”
Let’s take the reasons for these requests one by one.
- “We are outmanned” – is that true? It creates the impression of legions of poachers fighting against a few rangers. Perhaps this is true when bushmeat poachers are added to the mix, but is certainly not true when only looking at commercial poaching of elephants and rhinos. For example, in Kruger Park in South Africa, it is estimated that perhaps 30 or so poachers are operating per day, up against hundreds of soldiers from the South African Defense Force and an equal number of rangers. Poachers tend to be very light on the ground.
- “We are outgunned” – is that true? It creates the impression of heavily armed poachers fighting against rangers without modern weapons. Yes, there might have been instances when ivory poachers and rhino poachers allegedly used helicopters, and instances where gangs of poachers with automatic weapons have fought against rangers, but overall this is not a truthful picture. Look at this picture (on the left) taken of actual poachers by a trail camera in Kruger. There’s a man with a hunting rifle in front, followed by another man with an axe and also carrying a yellow plastic bottle of water. Both have backpacks on, presumably containing their supplies of food. These men are openly walking around, not dressed in camouflage clothes, just a stroll in the park? A similar picture taken by another trail camera shows three men walking down the middle of a road in broad daylight. Are these poachers so difficult to catch? Are they outgunning the SADF and heavily armed rangers with a single hunting rifle and an axe?
- . “We are under-trained”. That could well be very true. Before the poaching crisis, rangers largely manned gates, collected fees, and did the occasional patrol. But yet these days rangers are quite a lot better trained in terms of how to deal with poachers. Cynics would say they are dealing with poachers to their financial advantage…
What is interesting, therefore, is that the four African leaders all asked for equipment like helicopters and night vision goggles. Namibia has plenty of helicopters sitting idle on their army bases. Tanzania should have plenty of night-vision equipment among their army. Why not share them?
But also, let’s get real. This is just putting plasters on a wound.
It is interesting to note that not a single African leader said – “we need sustainable employment for our people, so they are not tempted into poaching”.
When will that concept catch up with reality?
Picture credits: Oxpeckers and http://bit.ly/1A0uXFc
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