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In ops somewhere in Africa.. A little surprise party being prepared for some unwanted visitors..We have begun making arrests and seizing weapons. Several separate successful ops. Here are two suspects with weapons and contraband. Aluta continua!
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.
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.
and have needed to take a break in order to 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!
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
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…)
Rory Young shared this photo of a poacher’s tracks.
From the large size I think that a man left these prints. Also male because the toes are close together. Women’s toes are typically more spread apart.
His toes are not digging in so I think he is walking and not running or jogging. Though for someone walking his stride is quite long, that tells me that he has long legs. So probably a tall man.
I know he is very fit with not much fat on his body because his straddle is extremely tight. Straddle is the side-to-side width of his feet from each other. An unfit person will usually carry fat on the inside of their thighs and that will make their straddle wider.
He is not carrying a heavy load. If he was carrying something heavy his toes would dig in more, his straddle would be wider and stride would be shorter.
If there was a measuring stick next to one of his feet showing the exact length of his footprint I could give you his approximate height.
So we have a tall fit man, walking confidently along with no clue that rangers are on his trail. Either he is a foolish man or he has been doing his poaching with no fear of reprisal for too long, because he is leaving a very clear trail in a sandy area making no attempt to conceal his tracks.
The second photo shows the arrested poacher and his two sons. Rory explained that while one of them was putting out the fish traps, shown in the photo, the other was setting snares and gin traps in the bush. The youngest was their lookout.
(I have told Rory that if we ever walk together in the bush I will be jumping from rock to rock and will drag a big leafy branch behind me so he won’t know all my secrets.) 🙂
After making arrests in a notorious poaching base last night we ran into a series of ambushes quickly set up by digging trenches and throwing logs across the road. Several hundred men attacked at different points as we were forced to clear the road.
Unfortunately one of the rangers was hit in the eyes by flying glass.
He is in the emergency ward now. Please keep him in your thoughts.