Issue of the Week: The Militarization of Poaching

poacher troops

Rhino poaching in South Africa is at record levels. Countries, such as Tanzania and Mozambique, have seen dramatic drops in their elephant populations. Demand for ivory and rhino horn largely comes from Asia, where owning an ivory carving is a status symbol and rhino horn is a wonder drug. Countless articles tell of the stark outlook for these species and call for justice.  But few understand the difficulties associated with anti-poaching efforts and even less have joined the fight on the ground.

The Small Arms Survey 2015: Weapons and the World reports that poachers are acquiring military-grade weapons off the black market. It states that, “As demand for ivory and rhino horn remains high, some poachers and anti-poaching forces are becoming increasingly militarized, using military-style weapons and adopting more aggressive tactics.” The word “fight” is appropriate now more than ever.

Poachers’ ability to operate in large numbers and possess considerable firepower poses unique challenges to rangers and others charged with protecting wildlife.

Many countries have begun using military technology and techniques to fight poachers. This includes special ranger training, creating anti-poaching task forces and the use of drones for surveillance. Still, poachers are becoming savvier and countering these forces takes funding that many countries lack.

A squad of rangers patrol through thicket where poachers have been known to hide in Maasai Mara Game Reserve April 4, 2008. A rocky cliff overlooking the Maasai Mara Game Reserve marks a new front line in a conflict between people and wildlife that threatens the revival of Kenya's $1 billion tourism industry. Riots and ethnic violence that exploded after a disputed December 27 vote scared away almost all the foreign holidaymakers. The disappearance of tourist dollars has disturbed the delicate balance between predators in the reserve and the Maasai tribesmen living next to it, by causing the breakdown of a compensation scheme meant to stop them hunting lions.   To match feature KENYA-WILDLIFE/   REUTERS/Radu Sigheti  (KENYA)

SCI Foundation is dedicated to assisting governments counteract these militarized poaching forces. This year, the foundation donated $100,000 to provide the Wildlife Conservation Foundation of Tanzania (WCFT) with vehicles to be used by anti-poaching patrols. We partnered with Humanitarian Operations Protecting Elephants (H.O.P.E.) in support of anti-poaching, anti-wildlife trafficking, wildlife conservation and humanitarian efforts in Africa. In past years, the foundation funded the Micro-light Aircraft Project, which allows for the operation and maintenance of aircrafts used for anti-poaching surveillance, partnered with local conservancies to protect rhinos, and worked with local governments on community-based conservation of elephants.

But still, there is more to be done.

International governments need to work together to find a solution that lowers demand for ivory and rhino horn.  Countries need to reinforce their domestic and global law enforcement to identify and break up large poaching syndicates. Governments need to strengthen partnerships with international organizations, NGOs and private industries to facilitate a global web of intelligence to intercept illegal imports.  Lastly, countries need to encourage and educate local communities on the benefits of wildlife.

SCI Foundation will remain poised to assist and advise on the development of such programs and demonstrate how hunter-conservationists can continue to contribute as the strongest advocates for curtailing poaching and illicit trade in wildlife.

To learn more about SCI Foundation’s Africa Program click here.

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