Malawi

An Amazing Gift

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In January, 2016 I was alerted to the below question on Quora.com. My answer follows.

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Answer by Lisa Groeneweg

*Edit Nov. 2016. – Everyone at Chengeta Wildlife thanks Brent Noorda for the donation of $100,000! We will use it well. Thanks to Leonid S. Knyshov for the A2A and thanks to everyone who voted for Chengeta. Brent went strictly by the upvotes so you made this happen for Chengeta! Go team!


Our nonprofit is a perfect example of democratic philanthropy! It was created and is run by scrappy volunteers from all over the world who saw a problem, created a solution and put it into action.

In November 2013, I read a Quora answer that ripped at my heart. It was Rory Young’s answer about elephant graveyards and poachers poisoning a watering hole and killing hundreds of elephants and many other species of wildlife. After learning more about the explosion of wildlife poaching across Africa, I sent Rory a message asking what I could do to help his efforts against this slaughter.

We discussed what was needed and many Quora friends and fans of Rory joined our cause immediately. Volunteers created our logo and other graphics, drafted by-laws, built a website, designed infographics, donated artwork, created fundraising videos, installed a board of directors, held bake sales and so much more. You can read about our efforts on our first blog, Quorans For A Cause. We quickly began to raise funds to get the necessary anti-poaching training to Park Rangers who protect wildlife – Rory’s specialty. In our short history we have raised over $132k together! At the start some doubters thought raising $5k would be a stretch – hah! :)

On February 25th, 2014, Rory and I officially co-founded Chengeta Wildlife, a non-profit based in my home state of Iowa. In the Shona language Chengeta means “to look after or take care of.”

The problem.

  1. Two rangers are killed each week in the line of duty. These men and women are usually extremely knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the parks, but now as the last line of defense between their ecological heritage and heavily armed poachers, they also need the skills and knowledge necessary to safely arrest heavily armed criminals.
  2. Armed militias and international crime syndicates have become heavily involved in trafficking wildlife products, attracted by the relatively easy money to be made. Rhino horn has a higher street value than gold or cocaine.
  3. Currently an elephant is killed every 15 minutes and a rhino every 8 hours. Experts caution that these keystone species will become extinct in the wild within 10 years if the killing continues at the current rate!
  4. Stripping the land of critical wildlife is devastating to the environment.

A light at the end of the tunnel?

  1. The world is becoming aware of the poaching catastrophe.
  2. The main markets for poached ivory and rhino horn are becoming educated about the blood price that is paid for their ivory trinkets. Billions of dollars have been spent on advertising this information in China. Demand has reportedly fallen a bit.
  3. We must protect the remaining wildlife (and rangers) until this madness is controlled.

We have a scalable solution.

  1. Our proven successful anti-poaching ranger training program is in high demand because it works!
  2. During live operations in Nkhotakota, a protected area in Malawi, our trained rangers under Rory’s guidance, arrested 81 poachers in just 12 days!
  3. The arrests continue after our trainers leave because the rangers have learned everything needed to continue planning and executing successful operations.
  4. The rangers don’t require drones or other expensive equipment to be successful. We give them all they need to achieve success using their most powerful weapon; their brain!
  5. We select the best and brightest rangers to receive additional education so they become the next anti-poaching trainers for their department making our program self sustaining. We create no dependence upon our organization.

Our training has been implemented in four countries so far with many more asking for our help. We have trained United Nations rangers in Guinea. A portion of that training was underwritten by the European Union. In fact, as I write this, Rory is training another group of UN rangers in Guinea.

Chengeta Wildlife is staffed by volunteers. So far all overhead expenses have been covered by board members so 100% of public donations go directly to the ranger training program! Our work has been supported by donations made by individuals from over 26 countries! We are extremely frugal with our limited funds. We wring every last bit of good from each penny donated.

Your support would mean everything to many passionate people who are giving this fight their all, especially Rory and the other brave rangers who are risking their very lives.

LisaAn Amazing Gift
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New Video

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I’m loading some of Rory Young’s video clips from our past training sessions. He may use some of these when he does his INBOUND15 interview/presentation in Boston next month. That event is not open to the public.

We are planning an event for any Chengeta Wildlife supporters who would like to meet Rory. We don’t have the details finalized, but it will probably be on Thursday, September 10th late afternoon or evening or sometime on Friday.

Since Chengeta supporters helped make these training sessions and videos possible I think we deserve the first peek at the videos.

The first one I’m sharing shows Rory and the Malawi rangers searching buildings after an undercover officer gained information about a poacher with a hidden weapon that could be used to kill large animals like elephants or rhinos. The best time to do this type of operation is when most are deeply asleep, around 3 or 4am.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o479Sp3-VHw[/youtube]

LisaNew Video
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Rory Goes Undercover

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By Rory Young.

My name is Boetie Van Niekerk, I am a South African professional hunter looking to buy ivory or rhino horn. I am arrogant, suspicious, and patronizing. I am also greedy and am looking for serious, long-term suppliers and “if you look after me, give me a good price and no hassles, I will keep coming back for more”. I can, of course, “buy as much as you can supply and want as much as you can sell me as quickly as possible”.

I use “middle men” or “buyers” to deal with “sellers”. You can’t just approach me directly. First, you talk to one of my junior middlemen who will meet and talk with you at length to establish who you are, what you have to offer and how much you want for it. He is an old toothless wonder with bad body odour but fancy clothes and a new watch and a smartphone. You are impressed by his stories of how “big” his boss is and how he pays too much money but can’t get enough. If he verifies that you are a genuine and serious seller he will then pass you on to one of my more senior, trusted, sidekicks. He will insist on inspecting what you have. That will be a big negotiation in itself because no one trusts anyone. However, after lots of backwards and forwards, and maybe some arguing, it will be done.

It will be necessary to verify who we are too and once we get round to talking about meeting with me to do the sale, we will have a brief chat on the phone, mainly to reassure you that there is a real “bigshot” foreign buyer behind the junior guys and you are not just being set up to be robbed of your ivory.

Eventually, when you are happy and I am happy, we will arrange to meet at a location we both feel is safe. Invariably a place as isolated and quiet as possible, with several approaches by road; a crossroads in a rural farming area is good, with enough cover to avoid being seen with the contraband, but with a view of the surrounding area. The meeting will of course take place late at night so that any vehicles can be heard or seen approaching from a distance and so that we won’t be observed “doing business”.

When we finally meet, both parties will almost certainly arrive late, having had people check the location secretly, to ensure that it is not a set-up by rangers or police officers or an ambush by thieves.

When we meet, I, of course, let my men do the initial talking. They will speak in the indigenous language of the area, and, as I don’t understand a word of what is being said, my buyers will repeatedly refer to me as this “white prick” or “this shithead”, so as to make you feel that they are on your side really and want to get you a good deal asap, because they hate my guts. All very reassuring for you. You actually outnumber us too, but not enough to encourage you to try to rob us. You are not sure if we are armed or not.

Eventually, I will get impatient with all the blabbering and will rudely interrupt. I want the stuff and I want to go. It is early morning and I am tired. Let’s get down to business…

I snatch at it greedily when you produce it, inspecting it, clearly knowing my business; and you hungrily eye the bulging bag at my feet. After weighing it and examining it we talk price. I argue that I already have lots of ivory as I have been buying in other areas, but eventually we agree on what I believe is a good price, as my middlemen have told you I will, but which you all know is outrageously high.

Money changes hands, the ivory is handed over, I mention one word, and suddenly your world takes a dramatic and terrible turn for the worse. You are suddenly on the ground with a boot on your neck and the muzzle of a gun in your face. Your hands are pinned. There is shouting, bright lights and other people have appeared from nowhere. You catch a glimpse of your friends trying to run, but being slammed to the ground by three men.

I am in reality neither South African nor a criminal, and, although I really am Caucasian, I do actually speak one indigenous Bantu language and can understand a lot of what is being spoken in others. I was born in Zambia, raised mostly in Zimbabwe, and have spent most of my adult life in wildlife and rural tribal areas in Central and Southern Africa.

I am an anti-poaching and anti-trafficking trainer and advisor. My work is done “in-ops”, so I show the rangers how it is done by actually doing it with them on the job. Once I am happy that they have understood the theory in the classroom and have shown themselves proficient in practical exercises, we go out and find and arrest traffickers and poachers, taking down whole networks, if possible.

Going undercover amongst traffickers is extremely dangerous. It is frightening and requires a steady nerve. The ability to believe that you truly are a criminal, and to play the part with convinction, is key. Undercover ops also require excellent teamwork, quick and effective planning, and, above all, incredible trust and confidence between the people working undercover and their support team.

It is never the size of the threat nor its intensity that I find worrying or reassuring. It is the level of control that I and my fellow rangers or trainees have in any given situation.

We are not adrenaline junkies looking for the next big fix. In fact, all of the instructors whom I work with and all of the experienced and properly trained rangers who participate, abhor any unnecessary risk-taking or recklessness. An experienced officer knows that to be effective, to stay alive and healthy and avoid disruption to the community and environment, he needs to get the job done in as professional a manner as possible.

Whilst operating openly in the parks is dangerous work, undercover work on the other hand is, as far as I am concerned, the most nerve-wracking type of work I have done. In the areas I work, there is very little or no technology available to make our work easier. We often end up sitting alone with criminals, out of comms with our fellow rangers. Often this is necessary and deliberate as we need to build trust.

The worst is when a tip comes in at short notice and there is little time to reconnoitre, investigate or plan. Such missions are only undertaken when an experienced team is in place. They can easily go wrong and we occasionally find ourselves pursuing armed individuals in a vehicle or on foot.

Often, communities or syndicates will be closed to outsiders and we have to carefully work out who is who, and how we can break into the circle. That can take a lot of time and requires a lot of patience. We will send in men to try and gather information, identify possible informants and try to understand who is doing what, why, when and how. I do not like sending men into such situations, but often we have little choice. We try to make it as safe as possible by ordering them to withdraw as soon as there is the slightest suspicion or aggression towards them. We will hide teams at strategic points around the areas, both concealed and undercover to move in if necessary.

Although this type of work is stressful and dangerous, it is also exciting and, most importantly, it is highly effective. Along with running informants and interviewing suspects it is one of the best sources of intelligence and regularly results in successful operations.

Whilst I personally dislike ad hoc undercover ops in urban areas, I absolutely love pseudo operations in rural areas. This is when officers form fake poaching gangs and pretend to operate in an area, moving out of a park with (actually seized) contraband, weapons, and they dress and behave like any real poaching group. In some parks areas where the vegetation is very open, this is sometimes one of the most effective ways of getting close enough to attempt an interdiction.

Oh, and don’t worry that I may be letting the cat out of the bag by telling you all of this… Undercover and pseudo ops cause chaos for the poachers just by everyone knowing they are happening in an area. No one knows who they can or can’t trust and talk to. No one can approach anyone new to sell something. No one can ask for assistance from local people or even from other poachers…

Our work is funded through donations to Chengeta Wildlife. The work I describe above has taken place during in-ops training funded by Chengeta Wildlife We are having unparalleled success on the ground, working with different African governments and regional organizations. Rangers have to be able to do everything from undercover work to tactical tracking to crime scene investigation and much more. We train them in a comprehensive methodology that we developed. We help those officers who need the help the most, not just the “celebrity” conservation areas. If you would like to support our work, please donate or share our information.

LisaRory Goes Undercover
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Project tipped!

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We did it!Screenshot (134)

To everyone who donated and worked to publicise the campaign – you are AWESOME!!! I thank you and the elephants thank you!

The campaign still has one day to go and lots of animals need our help. Let’s keep this effort going!

LisaProject tipped!
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Over $9,000 Pledged!

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Yikes! We are counting down by hours now! It would be painful to lose $9k in pledges, but I don’t have any tricks left up my sleeve. I’ve contacted everyone on my list. I want to thank everyone who has pledged and worked to spread the word about our funding campaign, you rock!

Marjet Young shared this video of “Papa” Rory Young with his munchkins during the visit with Bhavesh in Switzerland.
Astrid owns that bar! So cute.

So far the votes on the Honey Badger vs. Ranger Contest are leaning towards Bhavesh. Anyone else care to record your opinion in the comments below? Bhavesh has posted more about the contest on his Quora blog: Rory Young vs Bhavesh Aggarwal

We are having fun with the contest, but our work on the ground is very serious as you can see in the video below.

Previously shared video.

Keep sharing the campaign, it’s not over until the fat lady sings and I’m not even warming up my voice! 😉

Back a Ranger to Save Wildlife

LisaOver $9,000 Pledged!
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Final Week!

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Check out our lovely progress bar. We have hit the sweet spot for sharing.
The dynamite is all in place, ready to be lit.

Back a Ranger To Save Wildlife

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Now is the time to share the campaign, call, message or email your peeps. We all tend to ignore mailing lists and it’s easy to ignore a Facebook post, but we pay attention when a friend contacts us one-on-one. Tell our story, and ASK for their support. Small donations add up, even if someone can only donate $10, they’re still making a difference.  Let them know that if we don’t reach our tipping point we won’t receive the thousands we’ve earned so far!

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StartSomeGood has added our campaign on their main page. As you can see need $11,443 to reach our tipping point. We have raised that much in 2 days in our previous campaigns and I’m not referring to large donations from the lovely Ellen and Mr. Vrana. We have raised that much in many smaller donations added together.

I received the following note from Helen R. who works as a grant writer for a nonprofit. What you and the rest of the Chengeta Wildlife team of volunteers are doing is amazing and goes to show what hard work and sheer bloody-minded determination can achieve!”.

What we, a bunch of people from around the world who have never met, are doing is extraordinary! You, me, Rory, and many others, we’ve all brought Chengeta this far. Let’s keep it rolling!

Back a Ranger to Save Wildlife

LisaFinal Week!
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Onwards and Upwards!

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My family and I have “been through the wars” lately, so to speak,

and have needed to take a break in order to Screenshot (83)organize our new base in Europe. Thank you everybody for all the support and patience. We are all very grateful for the assistance and kind words that we have received regarding the Zimbabwe Central Intelligence Organizations harrassment and threats, our departure from Zimbabwe, my father’s passing away and the difficulties of changing home, country, continent and language.

“What doesn’t kill fattens” said Nietsche. We are already moving onwards and upwards and I can assure everybody that Marjet and I are more determined than ever to do whatever we can to help save Africa’s wildlife, its wild areas and to harmonize nature and communities.

Knowing that my family are safe and secure in a peaceful and stable country when I am out chasing around poachers is a huge relief to me and will allow me to focus on what needs to be done when I am out there rather than worrying whether they are okay.

There has been so much doom and gloom lately I thought you might appreciate a bit of a laugh… The following video “interview” was done by one of the rangers under my instruction in the middle of ops in a “hot” area which will remain unnamed. We were all exhausted tense and taking a break by having a little laugh on camera. (We have a lot more footage that we are preparing, including a lot of exciting stuff…)

Thank you all again and enjoy!

P.S. If you are struggling to get friends, relatives or neighbours to donate to our fundraiser then please try threats and blackmail!

LisaOnwards and Upwards!
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It’s Arnold’s Birthday!

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Today is Arnold’s 4th birthday. I asked Paul, his dad and Malawi ranger, to wish him a happy birthday from the U.S.A. Paul wrote back that Arnold was so proud to receive the greeting.

Who wants to give this little guy the best birthday ever! If we can get 10 people to donate (any amount) to our crowdfunding campaign I, personally, will buy Arnold some beach toys and swim goggles. If more people donate, I will add to his loot.

10 donations = Beach toys & swim goggles.
20 donations = Beach toys & goggles, toy car or truck.
30 donations = Beach toys & goggles, toy car or truck, soccer ball.
40 donations = Beach toys & goggles, toy car or truck, soccer ball, soccer jersey.
50 donations = Beach toys & goggles, toy car or truck, soccer ball, jersey, bike

If we can get past 50 I will take mal3arnoldbackpack2suggestions for more toys to add, but let’s at least get him some beach toys, right?!

I’m sure Paul will be happy to upload a photo of Arnold with any gifts we send. I will also send him a birthday card with the names of the donors who made the gifts possible.

Back A Ranger to Save Wildlife

LisaIt’s Arnold’s Birthday!
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