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
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
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
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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Africa’s elephant population has crashed by an estimated 111,000 in the past decade primarily due to poaching.
2016 estimates suggest there are 415,000 elephants across the 37 range states in Africa.
The Maned wolf, along with other large mammals including the giant anteater, is threatened by the increasing conversion of grasslands into farmland for grazing and growing crops in the Brazilian Cerrado and only 23,600 animals remain.
The Hellbender salamander underwent population declines of 77 per cent across five locations in Missouri between 1975 and 1995.
Degradation of habitat from the effects of agriculture and the recreational use of rivers is believed to be the main cause of the decline.
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Only 50,000 remain.
The leatherback turtle has become increasingly rare in both the tropical Atlantic and Pacific and only 2,300 breeding females are through to remain.
It declined by 95 per cent between 1989 and 2002 in Costa Rica because of development in breeding grounds and fishing.
European eel is declining due to disease, overfishing and changes to its freshwater habitat that impede its migration to the sea to breed, levels have fallen 95 per cent in the last 25 years.
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Yangtze river dolphin has declined largely due to incidental mortality by collisions with fishing vessels and entanglement in fishing gear and is now feared to be extinct.
Tigers are facing large declines in Asia with only around 3900 tigers are left in the wild facing threats of habitat destruction, climate change, and human wildlife conflict.
The species is critically endangered
As few as 70 Amur Leopards are left in the wild, facing threats of habitat destruction and human wildlife conflict.
The species is critically endangered.
Just under 2,000 Giant Panda remain in the wild. Threats include human wildlife conflict and climate change.
The species is listed as vulnerable although was taken off the endangered list last month.
Fewer than 1,000 mountain gorillas now exist in Africa and they are one of the most critically endangered species in the world.
They have suffered devastating population loss in recent decades because of habitat destruction and human wildlife conflict.
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.