I recently arrived in Liwonde National Park in Southern Malawi. I am here to train 30 experienced anti poaching officers in advanced anti poaching operations for 30 days.
The training is fully funded by Chengeta Wildlife and organized by ALERT. University of Coventry are also now actively working through information I have and will be sending them, in order to figure out how to quantify the results of the training and doctrine and to then start actively researching the results. They are also analyzing the field manual, videos of previous training and other material to further develop the doctrine and training manuals.
You may remember the last training done at Liwonde, which was for the heads of law enforcement from each park in Malawi. The training was 20 days and very successful. Not only in terms of what the men learnt but also in teams of the success of the in operations part of the training, where poachers, traffickers and a whole network was taken down.
This time the training will be for the anti poaching rangers working in Liwonde itself. I will also have four assistants, all of whom participated in the training in September last year. They will become future instructors for the department.
In January the area managers and deputy directors of the department participated in a training workshop in the capital, Lilongwe, again funded by Chengeta Wildlife and organized by Alert. The workshop could only take place over a few days as it is very difficult to get everyone together during such difficult times. The workshop was very important as it allowed the senior personnel to understand what the anti poaching teams and leaders are actually learning and how they can be most effectively deployed.
After the Lilongwe workshop I made a one week trip to Liwonde again. This was to follow up on and assess how the training is being used by team leaders and to determine whether it is proving effective. I was also asked to advise the park manager on putting together a wet season program for the park, which I did.
I was delighted to hear from the park manager that in the three months since the September training, arrests had trebled in comparison to the three months preceding the training. 80 percent of these arrests have been directly attributed to skills and techniques not previously utilized and learned by the team leaders during the training.
The park manager agreed with my suggestion during our planning session that he should establish a “special operations and investigations unit” comprised of the most experienced, trustworthy, capable and dedicated officers to tackle the biggest and most serious threats. We put together the team immediately, headed by one of the best participants in the previous training and I headed out for a few days patrol with them to see for myself how the leader is implementing his training, the capabilities of the officers, the local poaching situation and how they are dealing with it.
Our mission was an area reconnaissance of an area not usually accessible to the rangers. We would look at possible access routes for future ops and then assess the poaching activity in the area.
In three days we found five poachers’ camps, were fired on by a twit with an old muzzle loader, and encountered two other groups of poachers, as well as numerous newly set snares.
There have been floods in Malawi, with over three hundred people killed and Liwonde is part of the affected area. The entire area was a morass, with swamps of black clay that was very difficult to move through, often waist deep. We also had to ford rivers without ropes or other safety equipment, relying on strong grips and branches instead.
Unfortunately we could not pursue the poachers far in such conditions and with no support. However, we had the information we had come to get. I had to leave but the team would redeploy, properly prepared and equipped for pursuit in those conditions, and with adequate support.
I have now heard the results of that deployment. The team recovered over 850 snares and steel gin traps in five days! Furthermore, arrests were made and the access points are now known and regularly patrolled.
In the coming four weeks, the Liwonde rangers will be doing a lot of theory and practical training. Finally we will launch a series of in ops training operations and we aim to give the poaching networks in the area a big shock.
Lisa Groeneweg suggested I post a running logbook/diary as we progress through the training and ops. I cannot post a lot of information because of operational security, and have been very hesitant to do so in the past.
However, I will try to post something that is not too sensitive as and when possible, even if it is only a picture or a quick few lines.
This work has begun to make a massive impact and word has spread all over Africa about the effectiveness of our training, not just in terms of anti poaching but also in sensitizing the communities to the need to protect their resources.
Thank you for your continued support.