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

Daily Telegraph

12 January 2019

Dominic Nicholl

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 Retarius.

“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

gathering markedly.

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

often thankless.

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

the project.

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

Poaching operations.*