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Written by Jamie Joseph on Savingthewild.com
It’s twilight in Malawi when I catch Rory Young on the phone, camped out with his fellow rangers somewhere deep in the African bush. There is a sense of urgency in his voice, like he has many important things to tell me, but really there is so much more work to be done.
“Let’s just focus on the task at hand,” he interrupts me when I deviate, commenting I had read that when he was just 17 years old he was, at the time, possibly the youngest person to have ever earned his wings in the French Foreign Legion.
“There have been 81 poaching arrests in just under two weeks,” Rory continues. “If we had been shooting first and asking questions later we would have dealt with only a fraction of this number and would have almost certainly sustained casualties.”
Populations of elephants in Malawi have halved in recent years, and the government has now decided enough is enough. They have committed to burning their entire ivory stockpile, symbolically important, and there are plans to include conservation in the school curriculum, teaching children the importance of wildlife and the real value of wildlife to tourism and the country’s economy. There is now political will.
Zambian born Rory Young has been tracking Africa’s wild ever since he was a little boy. In Zimbabwe he successfully completed a five year rigorous apprenticeship to become a forest ranger, of which only 5% pass. After more than two decades tracking in the field, and suddenly in the midst of another poaching crisis, it was crystal clear to him that a lot of the people who had fought in the first war on poaching in the eighties were now retired, or had been replaced by younger, less experienced rangers who had grown up after the counter insurgency operations of his generation, and who had no training or experience in the very specific skills needed to overcome such a crisis.
This was the seed from which Chengeta Wildlife was born, an organisation that raises money to train wildlife protection teams, because, frankly, throughout most of Africa there simply aren’t the funds available to properly upskill rangers, and so the death toll continues to rise, for both animals and humans.
The key here is pragmatic doctrine. In the race to stop the blood flow, right across Africa ex military are taking military doctrine and trying to apply it to anti poaching.
“It does not work,” says Rory. “In anti poaching you do not have a military structure. Each man in a military unit plays his part, whereas in anti poaching the reality is the men need to be incredibly versatile because they are operating independently in small groups in isolated areas. Through our Chengeta network of expertise we have created a doctrine very specific to anti poaching, and then we further tailor it to each park. Part of this doctrine is teaching rangers all the skills that would collectively be taught to the military, or the police, or intelligence agencies; how to go undercover and gather information from other sources, how to do reactive investigations, how to analyse all of the information gathered and then take that information and plan future operations. We teach them all the tactics of pursuit, apprehension, post apprehension and interrogation and to then roll up the networks using the information from arrested poachers.”
In the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, for the entire 2014 there was 21 arrests. Under Rory’s guidance they made 21 arrests in half a day. And that is because they’re putting stop groups in the right places at the right time. They work out where the poachers entry and exit the protected area and their movements, especially choke points, and then they set up covert apprehensions. They’re coordinating with tracking teams, observation posts and undercover officers so that every step of the way they can catch them in various positions.
“This kind of anti poaching is not being taught throughout the vast majority of anti poaching operations in Africa,” continues Rory. “There is the assumption that if the boots on the ground isn’t working we should bring in the drones, or some other magic warfare, but there is no silver bullet. Just look at Kruger National Park (KNP), they are failing because they are trying to run it as a military structure.”
In Liwonde, where black rhinos are severely threatened, between February and March Malawi rangers made 33 arrests in two weeks with just 30 men, one old boat captured from poachers, and one and a half vehicles – they only had access to a second vehicle some of the time. Compare that with KNP, with thousands of men, helicopters, drones, vehicle fleets, army and air force support, and there was just 28 rhino poaching arrests in April, and that was a sharp improvement.
I question if that is because South Africa still doesn’t have an effective hot pursuit agreement with Mozambique, and most of the poachers are coming over the border from Mozambique.
“That’s not it,” replies the intense strategist. “Because there is a whole series of steps you can take. You can catch them at point of entry, at market, or exit point – there are many different places you can tackle poaching. But all of that requires intelligence. Shoot on sight is stupid. If we had been shooting on sight during this latest sting operation we would have shot a handful of poachers and that would have been the end of it. Every single poacher is an opportunity for information to get more poachers and work your way up the chain to the ringleaders.”
We go on to discuss the poverty link to the poaching crisis, and how vital it is that governments and NGOs address this problem. Poverty leaves the local villages living near wildlife vulnerable, with the fathers and sons recruited by criminal syndicates to do the dirty work and pay the highest price, often leaving behind widows and orphans.
The very latest figure – 81 arrests in 12 days, is impressive, and must be some kind of record, but I’m quick to point out that the conviction rates of poachers right across Africa is less than 10%. It’s no secret that evidence is often tampered with and mysteriously goes missing once in police custody, so how is Chengeta’s way of teaching rangers to handle evidence any different?
Says Rory, “We teach a complete doctrine, right through to the courts, making sure the dossiers are correctly put together so that the prosecutors have all the information they need. We maximise the ranger’s effectiveness. I’ve been training rangers for the last three years in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Guinea, and as far as I know we’ve never lost evidence. Malawi is in the middle of redoing all its legislation, they know they need to introduce much harsher sentences so that the law actually acts as a deterrent, however in the meantime a committee has been formed made up of judiciary, police, army, parks and wildlife, and intelligence services to make sure they get more convictions. The evidence that is now being handed over to the judiciaries is light years ahead of what it was before. “
Through the Chengeta training, the rangers are taught how to create a dossier with all the evidence and everything is signed off by two police officers, and the rangers get a copy of that. Then it goes straight to the prosecutor and they have to sign for it. Then everyone has a copy, and if something does go astray the organisation that lost the evidence can be charged with deliberately tampering with evidence.
However funds have recently dried up and Rory continues to work pro bona. As soon as more donations come in Chengeta can take on another six protected areas in Malawi, including one Transfrontier Park and a World Heritage Site.
Concludes Rory, “There have been requests from a dozen African countries to conduct the training. Right now our focus is fundraising to provide training to Africa’s least developed countries that need the most help.”
National Geographic story with Chengeta Director Rory Young: Anti poaching – high tech versus boots on the ground.
If you would like to support Chengeta Wildlife please visit their website here.
Each 30 day training session costs approximately US$18,000 which is spent on:
• Rental of vehicles and boats for anti-poaching operations (if needed)
• Fuel for vehicles and boats
• Daily rations for trainers and participants
• Shelter for trainers and participants
• Airfare and transportation for trainers to/from camp location
• Trainer remuneration
• Printed field guides and other education materials
• Training supplies when needed: compasses, water bottles, radios
Originally posted in National Geographic as
Written by Patricia Raxter and Rory Young
Across the globe poaching and wildlife crime are decimating species, from charismatic megafauna like African elephants and rhinos to small and adorable pangolins to brightly colored parrots. An estimated 100,000 African elephants were poached for their ivory from 2011 to 2013. Since 2007, rhino poaching has increased 9,000 percent.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, Earth has lost 50 percent of its wildlife in the past 40 years. While habitat loss and environmental degradation clearly take their toll, poaching for human consumption has emerged as a key factor driving this loss.
As organized crime has penetrated the illegal wildlife trade, it has gotten more sophisticated and almost impossible to stop. We’re in the midst of an environmental crime crisis which could, if left unchecked, have irreversible consequences.
Increasingly, conservationists and policymakers are turning to technology solutions to combat wildlife crime, including drones, satellite imagery, predictive analysis, DNA analysis, hidden cameras, GPS location devices, and apps.
In some regions, new technologies are already making an impact. For example, organizations seeking demand reduction are skillfully using such technologies to change the habits of Chinese consumers, the world’s largest market for wildlife products.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has reached hundreds of millions of Chinese through social media applications like Wechat. IFAW’s augmented reality elephant, “Laura,” is spreading awareness of wildlife through “live” interactions with Chinese consumers, most of whom have never seen a living elephant.
At the supply end of the chain in Africa, where elephants are poached by the tens of thousands each year and rhino poaching has reached historic levels, drones are increasingly being pushed as an integral part of the solution.
Anti-poaching drones have already been deployed in Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and Namibia.
Tech challenges staged by the U.S. government, private industry, and conservation organizations aim to inspire thinkers and technologists to crack some of the difficulties associated with drone use: their operation in austere terrain, their energy and power needs, range limitations, streaming capabilities, and cost.
The push to adopt new technologies to combat poaching arises from what has been characterized as an arms race between poachers and wildlife rangers. It’s not uncommon for poachers to be armed with automatic weapons, silencers, copious amounts of ammunition, and even night vision goggles. They may even have access to satellite phones and hand-held GPS devices to coordinate with traffickers and stash trophies.
Some poachers, like the Sudanese Janjaweed and other heavily armed gangs on horseback, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and RENAMO, have been trained in military tactics, enhancing their capabilities and intensifying the threat to park rangers and local communities.
Perhaps the most highly developed and tested drone program, to combat rhino poaching in South Africa, was created at the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS).
Working with AirShephard, a nonprofit focused on aerial solutions to the poaching crisis, UMIACScut rhino poaching entirely in one area in South Africa that previously had lost as many as 19 rhinos a month.
The program combines big data analytics and satellite imagery to understand better how poachers, wildlife, and rangers use the environment and which factors increase or decrease the likelihood an animal will be poached at a specific time and place.
To predict when and where poaching will occur, the analytics rely on algorithms that take into account such details as the phases of the moon, road networks, water holes, past poaching incidents, and the satellite-tracked movements of animals.
New data are acquired daily from drones, tour operators, rangers on patrol, and GPS collars on individual animals. In aggregrate, the analytics reveal patterns of poaching attacks and can predict with 90 percent accuracy where poachers will strike.
According to UMIACS, most rhino poaching occurs near a roadway on or near the full moon and between 6:30 and 8:30 at night.
Using this information, rangers are pre-deployed to areas holding rhinos and other vulnerable animals. When the drone spots potential poachers, it signals a command center that alerts rangers, who immediately can move in to prevent animals from being killed and arrest the criminals.
These tools have amazing potential, but they aren’t a silver bullet or a panacea. The usefulness of drones for tracking poachers in real time is limited by several factors.
Drones require skilled operators, significant infrastructure support, and robust and voluminous data.
The powerful UMIACS package tested in South Africa involved a team of outside experts to: analyze data about past poaching events, generate algorithms to map out flight plans, operate and maintain the drones, and analyze and transmit the data to ranger forces.
Also needed, and sorely lacking in many African countries, if drone programs are to succeed: well-trained and well-equipped ranger forces to intervene and make arrests.
It’s not uncommon for ranger forces to lack vehicles, weapons, communications equipment, and even basic supplies like water bottles and boots. In some countries, rangers go months without being paid. Most important, rangers often don’t get essential basic training.
There are other constraints on drones as tools to fight poaching. They can fly only for short periods, which limits their coverage area. Although they perform well in open terrain, they’re much less effective in densely forested habitats. They don’t do well in rain, and dust and grit can hobble them.
To be truly effective, drones need thermal imaging capabilities to spot poachers hiding in the bush, sophisticated imaging technology to scan and zoom in on the land, and to be able to fly at altitudes where they can’t easily be seen. Boosting their capabilities in these ways is very costly.
Even if the software is donated, the whole package—the drones themselves, their operators, and the control station—can amount to $500,000 a year. Funding for such operations simply doesn’t exist in most parks and wildlife areas in Africa.
AirShephard is now trying to raise money to fund 40 to 50 teams across southern Africa. At the low end, these could run to $20 million a year.
Before conservation dollars are thrown at drone technologies, another question must be asked: How effective are they at stopping poaching of animals other than iconic megafauna like elephants and rhinos?
Sadly, the current poaching crisis may just be the beginning of wave after wave of attacks on various different animals, as sophisticated organized crime networks expand their interests and operations.
Pangolins, for example, are now the world’s most trafficked mammal, endangered in every part of their range because of the illegal trade. It’s unclear whether drones could have any effect on pangolin poaching—or the plunder of other small mammals, birds, and reptiles that’s destroying ecosystems across the globe.
Another question: How would drones be used outside parks and reserves? In Kenya, 85 percent of wildlife lives in communally held lands. In these populated areas, how could a drone determine friend from foe?
In Tanzania, it’s estimated that up to 60,000 people hunt illegally on the western side of Serengeti alone. Drone technology can’t defeat such an onslaught.
Despite the increase in arrests of poachers in Kruger and the efficacy of the drone program in one area of the park, rhinos continue to be poached at an alarming rate: Last year 1,215 were killed, 21 percent more than in 2013.
During one week this April, wildlife authorities found 31 poached rhinos in Namibia’s Etosha National Park, where drones have been used since late 2013. This suggests that drones may be pushing poachers into less well protected areas rather than contributing to an overall decrease in poaching.
A proven strategy is to combat poaching with skilled, intelligence-driven anti-poaching units that rely on networks of informants within local communities and deployment of trained undercover officers.
The goal is to understand every link in the poaching chain: Who kills the animals, and where and when, what routes poachers follow out of the kill zones, who conducts the trade in wildlife parts.
These programs also emphasize the importance of crime scene investigations to build solid cases against poachers and achieve convictions.
Investigative skills associated with tracking can be used to gather high value actionable intelligence on both non-state armed groups and criminal poachers.
With training, rangers can bring to bear evidence such as leftover food scraps, trash, cigarette and alcohol packets, footprints, tire tread marks, spent cartridges in determining where poachers originated, their group size, how long ago a camp was occupied, transportation methods, strike ranges, and how poachers’ support networks function. Such information can help build legal cases to bring down entire poaching networks.
Preventive, proactive intelligence-driven programs focus nurturing sympathetic sources within local communities and tapping their knowledge. This approach is safer for rangers and conservation professionals—and for wildlife. It’s also far less costly and is more sustainable than technology-driven approaches.
The Ruvuma Elephant Project (REP) is active in the wildlife corridor connecting the Selous Game Reserve, in Tanzania, and Niassa National Park, in Mozambique.
REP focuses on training game scouts and rangers, many recruited from local communities, in anti-poaching skills as well as in how to prepare cases against poachers.
REP teams patrol inside the parks to help prevent illegal activity such as setting snares, poison, and traps. They use financial incentives to develop a network of informers who share their knowledge (read: intelligence) about potential poaching and trafficking activities.
With such community support, REP has been able to identify poachers and financiers and make arrests.
In addition, through education programs, mitigation of human/wildlife conflict, and the development of local businesses, REP attempts to address some of the root causes of community participation in poaching.
These include poverty, unemployment, lack of understanding about the value of wildlife and conservation, and poor relationships between wildlife authorities and local communities.
Once the project got under way, the area saw a significant drop in poaching in a short period. According to Save the Elephants, the number of poached carcasses dropped from 216 the year before the project was put in place to 68 the next year.
In two years the REP recorded “the seizure of 1,582 snares; 25,586 illegal timber (pieces); 175 elephant tusks; 805 firearms; 1,531 rounds of ammunition; 6 vehicles; 15 motorcycles; and the arrest of 563 people.”
A similar intelligence-driven program in Malawi, Chengeta Wildlife working alongside the Department of National Parks & Wildlife (DNPW), provides 30 days of anti-poaching training to senior park staff in national parks and wildlife reserves, as well as 30 days of field training.
Malawi depends on tourism for 60 percent of its foreign currency earnings, so curbing poaching is crucial for the country’s economy and for the security of its human communities.
Outlined in “A Field Manual for Anti-Poaching Activities,” by Rory Young and Yakov Alekseyev, the training—which costs $18,000—has proved incredibly effective. During one exercise, an anti-poaching unit took down an entire poaching syndicate and identified key individuals in other important networks.
The training bears fruit because it is comprehensive, focusing on all aspects of poaching in an area.
Rangers learn to gather information on poaching activities before they set out on patrols—including who the poachers are and where they come from, which animals are targeted, which times of the day are favored by poachers, and which ingress and egress routes are used.
Rangers also learn how to investigate crime scenes, run informants, plan and conduct undercover operations, track and apprehend poachers in challenging environments, and contribute to successful prosecutions.
The recent training in Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve resulted in 81 arrests in just two weeks of the field training phase. To put this into perspective, only 21 arrests were made in all of 2014.
For cash-strapped wildlife departments, it’s essential for solutions to poaching to be cost-effective.
An important component of the Malawi program is its focus on creating in-house training teams so that the wildlife department doesn’t have to pay for outside expertise every time.
Patricia Raxter is an intelligence analyst with the U.S. Army and is currently writing her dissertation on wildlife crime in Africa at Old Dominion University.
Rory Young, Director of Chengeta Wildlife, is an expert tracker who has dedicated his life to wildlife protection. Young recently coauthored A Field Manual For Anti-Poaching Activities, which provides workable solutions to poaching.
Malawian ranger Kambanie Masamba and his fellow rangers arrested 81 poachers in just 2 weeks during our last training session. After their phenomenal success he sent the following message.
“You did your part and we did our part, once again thanks!”
I promise we are doing all we can to line up funding from larger organizations so we don’t have to lean on you guys so much in the future. That said, if you have any amount that you could donate, I would be forever grateful.
We have set up an easy new way to donate through our partners at ALERT.
Supporters in the UK can text APTR05 to 70070 to give £5
or text APTR10 to 70070 to give £10.
(APTR stands for Anti-Poaching TRaining.)
US donors can text any donation amount to (415) 319-6494. The first time you will have to fill in the bare minimum of information. In the future you can donate by simply texting the amount you would like to give to the number above.
Interesting morning. We captured a poacher (2nd from left in the picture) and then just after taking the picture walked into a Black Mamba. The first two rangers and the poacher walked past it and then it came out of the grass and chased me and the ranger on the right in the picture.
Time for breakfast!
Written by Rory Young –
In the beautiful National Reserve where I am currently doing in ops training of Malawi DNPW rangers we are trying to make as big of an impact as possible, as quickly as possible and on as many illegal activities as possible.
The illegal activities range from elephant hunting to marijuana growing to timber harvesting.
The individuals undertaking these crimes are often linked to each other and are aggressive. For example, nearly all the poaching in the area is done with firearms and the weed growers have been shooting at anyone who comes near their isolated area for years.
Making so many arrests in such a short time without a single fatality or injury to either our officers or the criminals is something we are proud of. I do believe that if we had been shooting first and asking questions later that we would have dealt with only a fraction of this number and would have almost certainly sustained casualties.
We still have almost two weeks to go and intend to keep up the momentum. Again, watch this space…
This work is funded by chengetawildlife.org Thank you to all those who donate to Chengeta.
The organizing is done by lionalert.org
The technical skills, doctrine and trainer are provided by ttoscorp.com
The picture shows a ranger returning from a successful ambush of an entry point. The poachers brazenly advertised the route to each other by the grass that can be seen tied to the tree. (We did thank them profusely for providing us with that information after we arrested them…)
Written by Rory Young – These thirty-odd men have just finished making 33 arrests during the in-operation portion of their advanced anti poaching and anti trafficking training organized and funded by chengetawildlife.org and lionalert.org in Liwonde National Park in Malawi.
To put that in perspective, they have made the same number of arrests of poachers and traffickers in just two weeks, with just two old vehicles and one old boat, as the whole of the hugely funded and massively equipped Kruger National Park does in one month with all of its drones, helicopters, army and air force support.
The officers are given the knowledge, skills and strategies to continue the work long after we leave.
The group’s arrest rate is equivalent to forty times that of the average Kenya Wildlife Service protected area.
We are only just getting started. We will be continuing our work through all the protected areas of Malawi in our partnership with the Malawi Department of National Parks and Wildlife as well as other countries. The officers are given the knowledge, skills and strategies to continue the work long after we leave.
Thank you to all those whose financial and other support has allowed us to do this work.
Please support the men and women achieving the most success with the very least, in the war to protect our rhinos and elephants. This project is entirely funded through private donations.
We can win this war!
Elephants are being slaughtered in unprecedented numbers and if it continues experts predict they will be extinct in the wild within 20 years. They are killed for their ivory tusks. This ivory isn’t used to create anything necessary, it is used to flaunt wealth. Elephants are being slaughtered out of existence so the ignorant rich can say, “Look what I have! See how wealthy I am?”
“The illegal trade threatens to wipe out the natural endowment of affected nations by depriving future generations of their heritage, and of their right to develop those resources in legitimate ways. Ladies and gentlemen, it is wrong that children growing up in countries vulnerable to wildlife crime are losing their birthright in order to fuel the greed of international criminals, and that those children will face greater hardship and insecurity as this crime traps them in poverty.” The Duke of Cambridge’s speech on the illegal wildlife trade at the World Bank, Washington D.C., USA
“Indeed, it suits traffickers that areas rich in natural resources remain under-developed or conflict-ridden, so that they can go on plundering without restriction.”
Wildlife rangers — who tend to be incredibly knowledgeable about their environment and the ways of animals, but less so about infantry tactics — are wading into the bush to confront hardened soldiers.
Rory Young instructs the rangers of Malawi on how to stay safe while apprehending heavily armed poachers.
To Richard Ruggiero, the situation is nothing short of the genocide of an animal that mourns its dead, loves its young and suffers emotionally.”I am convinced many, if not most, know that people are trying to kill every last one of them and that they emotionally suffer because of it, and I can see it in their behavior,” he said. “I am sure that they feel that and that they know it. That people are committing a genocide on them, and most of them even know it’s for their teeth.”
Chengeta Wildlife is a nonprofit run by volunteers. We give free anti-poaching training to rangers all over the African continent. We teach them how to safely apprehend poachers and traffickers of wildlife products. Click on this link if you would like to learn more or donate to our current fundraiser.
The theory phase has been amazing. From Director General level down to AP team leaders, from all over Guinea, the work is being taken very seriously and the discussions have been animated and indicate a high level of motivation and the determination to make the most of the opportunity.
I have been impressed and touched by never ending thank you’s and requests for advice on numerous ops plans and other AP initiatives.
Still three weeks to go, including practical and intensive in-ops phases. Thereafter, these participants will go out and pass on the training immediately to another three hundred officers. It is clear that the impact of this training on poaching in all protected areas of Guinea will be massive.
I am delighted to also hear that the training will be used to create well protected green zones as quickly as possible for the safe reintroduction of species such as elephant and lion! Go Guinea!
Lisa Groeneweg has gone so far beyond what could ever be expected or hoped for by someone like me in terms of dedicated support and tireless effort and sacrifice.
Thank you also to Lion ALERT for working tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure it happens. David Youldon has ensured that our efforts are coordinated, managed and arranged professionally and without complaint and edited the field manual and so much more for no reward or recognition. This has been a model partnership between organizations, individuals and governments.
I have already been asked to return asap to advise on ops as they are planned and executed. How can we say no folks? It is so important to support a people trying hard to get it right. Guinea will reap the rewards for this effort in the future and I hope gain a reputation for much more than just the place where Ebola started.
In addition we have provided the departments and units with practical and objective field manuals, SOP’s and modules for further training and to ensure the skills are passed on as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
Written by Rory Young
A few people have gathered in Guinea to do something that doesn’t make big headlines and costs very little, yet is the most obvious way to prevent future outbreaks.
Whilst the world is pouring gazillions into producing a vaccine, thirty senior officers from the Ministère des Eaux et Forets, along with representatives of other law enforcement agencies, are undergoing the first anti poaching training ever held in Guinea, in order to become anti poaching trainers themselves, so that they may in turn train another five hundred men as soon as possible. It will cost about one millionth of the cost of producing vaccines. Literally.
Whilst vaccines are important, it is important to also do the obvious; educate people not to handle bats and other animals and put an end to the illegal bushmeat trade.
There will be many more new and deadly outbreaks too, as long as the world continues to do next to nothing about the ongoing wreckless abuse of the environment. This is not something the world can turn away from. Just as Al Qaeda reached into everyone’s living room in the United States from the other end of the world and tore their hearts out, so too will tragedy attack from afar, again and again, the world over, in the form of diseases quietly waiting their opportunity to find new unsuspecting victims.
The overall training has been funded by the United Nations Office for Project Services and the European Union, and the trainer has been provided by Chengeta Wildlife and Lion ALERT. I am the trainer and am in Guinea right now working with UNOPS and the Guinean government, preparing the equipment, security protocols and logistics necessary to travel as soon as possible to Haut Niger National Park and begin the training.
It is an intensive course that will last five weeks and will cover all aspects of wildlife protection. The officers will undergo a period of lessons in theory, followed by practical training and then finally “in ops” training in the field. It is a mir