More British Army PR being pumped out by the papers – then again, what else would you expect from the Telegraph? It’s fine to give rangers and anti-poaching units more skills but it will backfire if it just means militarisation and further distancing of local people from conservation and wildlife. Previous military training for rangers in Liwonde, Malawi, led to harassment of local communities, beatings, rapes and summary killing. Get local communities on board, given them ownership and an economic stake – whatever you do don’t go down the fortress conservation and ranger army route. Anti-poaching must not become an arm of counter-insurgency or use its methods.KS

Daily Telegraph

New Army specialists to hunt African wildlife poachers  and revive tracking skills

British troops working with local forces to battle ivory poachers in Gabon CREDIT:  GRAEME MAIN/BRITISH ARMY

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Ben Farmer, defence correspondent

14 AUGUST 2017 • 10:04AM

T

he British Army is building a new team of counter poaching specialists to help allies tackle wildlife crime and try to revive tracking skills lost during the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.

Soldiers from the 20-strong group will fly to Malawi later this month for a pilot deployment working with local wildlife rangers hunting poachers through the bush.

Commanders believe the project also offers an opportunity for the Army to rebuild tracking expertise that had been neglected in recent campaigns.

<img class=”responsive article-body-image-image” src=”/content/dam/technology/2017/06/20/New_GettyImages-459113606_EA_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqZgEkZX3M936N5BQK4Va8RT0aesusvN1TE7a0ddd_esI.jpg?imwidth=480″ alt=”A ranger inspects a rhino killed by poachers in the Kruger National Park, South Africa”>

A ranger inspects a rhino killed by poachers in the Kruger National Park, South Africa CREDIT: JAMES OATWAY/GETTY IMAGES

The counter poaching operators (CPOs), who have been chosen from all branches of the Army, have trained to track poachers through bush and forest over long distances for days at a time.

Maj Tony Viney, a qualified jungle warfare instructor leading the unit, said: “If you look back over the years, having trackers right down to section level was a key point.

“Your front men were always ones that could track and find where the enemy are. That got lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, because it was a skill set that wasn’t needed.”

Conservationists warn that Africa is facing a poaching crisis, with the killing of animals for the  ivory trade at its worst level for 30 or 40 years.

Prince Harry visibly moved by rhino poaching in South Africa

01:56

A survey of herds in 18 African countries last year estimated 27,000 elephants are being slaughtered annually – around eight per cent of the total population. Rhino numbers are also falling sharply.

British soldiers have provided support to African park rangers in the past, with a recent deployment tackling elephant poachers in Gabon.

Those deployments saw troops pass on basic infantry and intelligence skills.

The new unit, taken from 1st (UK) Division, will eventually take over all anti-poaching missions.

The Malawi deployment will see troops from the new team, part of 102 Logistic Brigade, embed with park rangers for three months in Liwonde National Park. The teams will conduct long-range patrols through the 225 square mile park.

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Maj Viney, of The Yorkshire Regiment, said the CPOs would be working with park staff to stop poachers breaching the fence, killing animals and taking the ivory.

But he said the soldiers were hoping to learn a lot from their partners.

Soldiers were selected for the unit during a course at Catterick and then spent weeks training in Kenya. As well as learning tracking, they learnt survival skills such as how to catch, kill and butcher food in the wild, how to find water and make fire.

<img class=”responsive article-body-image-image” src=”/content/dam/news/2017/08/04/TELEMMGLPICT000136274199_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqpVlberWd9EgFPZtcLiMQfyf2A9a6I9YchsjMeADBa08.jpeg?imwidth=480″ alt=”A Lance corporal from 2 Rifles with National Parks Agency guards on a jungle patrol in Gabon, in Central Africa.”>

A Lance corporal from 2 Rifles with National Parks Agency guards on a jungle patrol in Gabon, in Central Africa. CREDIT: GRAEME MAIN/BRITISH ARMY

Maj Viney, who spent a year in the jungles of Sierra Leone in 2005, said he hoped the Army’s tracking skills could be revived.

He said during the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns human tracking skills had focussed on trying to spot signs of activity and ‘patterns of life’ rather than finding and following people over long distances.

He said: “Tracking is all about the brain and patience, it’s not necessarily about it’s not necessarily about infantry skills.