Due to the response from yesterdays Rhino photograph, I have decided to write a short article on POACHING.
There are three main reasons for poaching.
- Rhino Horn Trade. - Contrary to popular belief, rhino horn use as an aphrodisiac is not the main reason for poaching. Rhino horn has been used in 'Traditional Chinese Medicine' for in excess of 2000 years, as a cure for numerous ailments. This is still the case today and is where the majority of the demand comes from. It is largely used as a status symbol. If you can afford medicinal rhino horn you must have some wealth. The second largest demand is as a gift and again is purely a status symbol, to show your wealth.
The fastest growing market for rhino horn in Asia currently is Vietnam. In excess of 1500 rhino are poached every year with the vast majority (approximately 1200 ) being poached in South Africa. As South Africa's Anti Poaching Units become better trained with better technology, the poachers are turning to softer targets in the surrounding countries. Lack of resources in these countries make it difficult to obtain proper numbers of poached rhino. At best it is a guess and I believe the numbers are under reported.
Ivory Trade - Approximately 30 000 elephant are poached throughout Africa each year. Ivory is only used for ornamental purposes today and again is purely a status symbol.
Bush meat. The demand for bush meat is driven by local populations who live below the poverty line and are looking for a source of protein.
HOW TO DEAL WITH POACHING
In the case of 1 and 2 above the easy answer is to go after the leaders of the criminal gangs who pay the poachers. This may be the easy answer, but is very difficult to put into action as they are protected by their governments and most operate in countries where interpol etc have no jurisdiction. The only way to deal with them is at a government level and unfortunately all governments are to busy playing politics to worry about a few dead animals other than to give it lip service to make themselves look good. If governments can not use the law to prosecute them, the criminal gang leaders involved should be terminated by other means (A court of law is not the only option). If enough of them are terminated the new leaders coming along will look at poaching as too risky to their health and will look at other income sources. Make poaching of Rhino horn and Ivory a very unattractive business for them no matter what the demand is.
For every poacher arrested and jailed or killed, there are ten waiting to take his place, so fighting it on the ground is a loosing battle.
That being said you have to start somewhere and on the ground in the bush is where the battle begins. 10 years ago poachers carried AK47's and a couple of rounds of ammunition and walked until they found a rhino or elephant to kill. With the money involved today, that has all changed and along with the AK47's they now have helicopters, drones, dart guns night vision goggles and infrared. In the majority of cases they are now far better armed and equipped than the Game Rangers and Anti poaching units trying to stop them. A group of poachers can each earn more than an average person in Africa's, years salary, just for 1 rhino horn or a decent elephant tusk and they are happy to kill anyone who gets in their way. The figures for 2017 show that over 1000 game rangers died in Sub Saharan Africa during 2017. Over 50% of these deaths were at the hands of poachers and only 17% attributed to animals. The ranger deaths are only a small part of the story. For every ranger killed there are 4 or 5 who receive life changing injuries. Then there are those who suffer psychological Trauma (PTSD) from their experiences. On top of the Rangers their families are affected, be it by the death of a farther, husband, brother, son bread winner, or sustaining an injury which prevents them from being able to work again, or the psychological trauma which often destroys family units. This is all before the toll on the civilian populations which live in the surrounding areas and often become what is referred to as collateral damage.
The one area we can control, even if it feels like a loosing battle is the men and woman on the front line of Anti Poaching. Unfortunately the decisions on anti poaching in all countries are made by people sitting in 'Ivory Towers' in a big city who have more than likely never set foot in the bush other than maybe on a luxury safari. They make all the right noises to get re elected, but do nothing that actually helps the animals or those tasked with protecting them.
To stand any chance of long term success, Specialist units need to be trained and equipped the same way as you would train and equip the special forces of any countries military. Laws need to be put in place to protect the members of these units from prosecution, if they fire on and kill an armed poacher. As it stands the law in most countries sates that the anti poaching units cannot fire, unless fired upon. Any one with fire arm experience will know that if the poacher is any good (and lots of them are)there is a good chance that if they fire first you are going to loose one or two members of your unit. Most contacts between poachers and Anti Poaching units take place at less than 10 meters and often in dense scrub. Anti poaching legislation etc needs to be drawn up in consultation with experienced wild life managers and military experts. Day to day operations need to be handled on the ground and each patrol needs to be planned with military precision. The majority of anti poaching units go out on patrol, with out any more planning than the average family in the western world would put into going for a Sunday drive. I appreciate that there are days ,weeks, months of boredom and routine patrols, interspersed with 30 seconds of intense action, but the proper training and planning will save lives and make the units far more effective. Game Rangers should have better fire arm training and be taught how to react if they find themselves in contact with poachers, but their main task should be conservation as it has always been. Anti Poaching should be left to specialist units.
Prison sentences for poachers caught red handed should be harsh and the fact that they were caught at the crime scene or with rhino horn etc should mean they` automatically receive the maximum sentence. Currently prosecutors need to produce DNA evidence linking the dead animal, the horn or ivory and the poacher to have any chance of success. The vast majority of poachers in Africa either get bail and abscond or got through the court process only to have the case thrown out because the DNA evidence is not there or contaminated. Again the men and woman on the ground do not have the resources or the required skills to obtain the evidence necessary.
The 3rd form of poaching 'Bush Meat' requires a totally different approach. This is more about people living below the poverty line who are desperate for a form of protein. The answer here is education, and increased tourism to create more jobs.Well managed reserves in Africa will still need to include culling (I can hear the shocked screams of all the tree huggers already). Humane culling to keep animal numbers at optimal levels benefits both the fauna and flora and ensures sustainable eco systems. The meat and products from these culls can be provide to the locals at minimum cost or free to help with their protein requirements.
Including and providing benefit to the local civilians is the only way to ensure the long term viability of Africa's wild life.
My views and opinions on anti poaching have never been popular, but I am not here to win a popularity contest. Hundreds of millions have been thrown at this problem with very little to show for it other than numerous charity managers with huge bank accounts, Thousands of 'Do Gooders' who have attended fancy expensive dinners and gala events, more to be seen to be doing and saying the the right thing, to make themselves feel better, rather than actually doing something and of course dont forget all of the government ministers both African and Western who have lined their pockets with donations given in good faith, instead of making sure it goes to where it is needed.