Yet more failed, militarised methods being advocated by what in other eras would have been called mercenaries and paid for by British and other governments. This approach alienates local communities and replicates the disastrous methods of the failed and discredited Operation Lock using ex-SAS personnel to infiltrate southern African rhino poaching syndicates.KS
12 January 2019
The African Ranger’s phone rings in the middle of the night. Her covert
contact deep within the organised crime network of elephant poachers tells
her 200 kg of ivory is about to be loaded into a container at the docks
bound for the Middle East.
Should she act now to seize the ivory and arrest some of the middle-level
criminals or track the container to its destination and use her trusted
international law enforcement contacts to map the wider criminal network?
Such are the decisions being taken every day in Africa’s fight against the
illegal wildlife trade.
Across the continent, former British military specialist intelligence
soldiers are using skills honed in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan
to help tackle the poachers and traffickers.
Retarius, a company using experience gained in counter-terrorist
operations, delivers specialist training and mentoring to law enforcement
and anti-poaching units in Cameroon, Benin and Zambia.
Employing former members of the UK intelligence community, the company
seeks to help Rangers build up a picture of the poaching networks using
informants and technical means.
“Our experience from tackling terrorist networks for the British army means
we’re now able to help the anti-poaching effort,”says Stu Farrag, Director
“Of course, local Rangers know their communities and the environment better
than us. But we’re able to train them in discrete methods and specialist
skills to make best use of their knowledge.
?The long-term success will be theirs; our background in the military just
helps give them the tools.”
Regular British troops elsewhere in Africa are on the front-line of the
illegal wildlife trade. The British government announced an additional ?1
million in aid for Malawi earlier this year, to help combat poaching, and
British soldiers in the country have trained 120 park rangers in the
Nkhotakota and Majete Wildlife Reserves.
Part of the extra funding went to the Wildlife Crimes Investigations and
Intelligence Unit in Malawi, an initiative that has improved intelligence
Last year 1000 kgs of ivory were seized and 114 arrests made, a ten-fold
increase in detentions compared to 2015.
The illegal wildlife trade is rated as the fourth most lucrative
transnational organised crime in the world, behind people, drug and weapon
The troops long-term goal will ensure the rangers are better able to
respond appropriately to the threat of poaching, that has driven the
decline in many African animals including elephants, rhinos and lions.
The UK government has pledged £26 million up to 2020 to help fight the
illegal wildlife trade.
The Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, said: “The illegal wildlife trade
is one of the most serious issues of organised crime facing the world
today. We cannot sit idle while criminals hunt some of the planet’s most
magnificent wildlife and in the process kill those who seek to protect them.
“That is why the British Army delivers vital training to park rangers
across Africa to combat those responsible and help protect these animals
for generations to come.”
Comment from Captain Luke Townsend, a Specialist in Counter-Poaching
The scale of the poaching epidemic in Africa is both novel and prodigious.
In the last decade poachers have slashed populations of elephant and rhino
in breathtakingly short periods of time.
Ranger work is hard, relentless work performed in difficult conditions and
Asking rangers wearing flip flops, carrying field kit in shopping bags and
bearing rifles they may never have fired, to apprehend ex-military poaching
gangs is a tall order. Which is why the efforts of British troops in
shouldering this burden are massively appreciated.
African leaders and park rangers have welcomed British help to stop the
poachers, from individuals, to the government and including
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO), particularly the Prince of Wales
Charitable Fund and Tusk Trust.
British involvement dates back to 2016, when the government of Malawi
courageously agreed to assistance and the British Army joined forces with
African Parks, a South African based NGO that manages protected areas.
Funded by the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), we
sent British troops, specially trained in tracking and bush craft, into
three Malawian parks to support and train rangers. The soldiers work
together with the rangers every day for three months.
It?s been a long road, not without bumps. We found that skills learned by
rangers on short courses were quickly forgotten, but partnering over longer
periods made the changes stick.
Our soldiers get at least as much out of these deployments as the rangers
do, living rough in the bush among elephant, rhino and lion, relying on
their skills on long range patrols.
The effects from these initial partnering efforts are still being felt. But
we are extremely hopeful for the future. In one of the parks, previously
heavily poached, they have been free from the poaching of their
Mega-fauna (as the large animals are known) for over a year all thanks to
the pioneering partnership between the British Army, Malawian Government
and African Parks.
DfID is now investing millions of pounds in community development projects
around these parks as well, which will only multiply the effect.
Malawi, has lead the way, and now it’s African neighbours are engaging with
Defra have funded more work in the years ahead and with ongoing support
from the royal family we look forward to doing our best to make a
difference. It is through working together with the rangers that we strive
to guarantee that our grandchildren will know a planet with elephant and
rhino in the wild, not just in a museum.
*Captain Luke Townsend has served in both the Australian and British
Armies, was awarded the Nato meritorious service medal for his last tour in
Afghanistan and has spent the last five years involved with Counter