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Rory Young has completed our second training session in Mali.
RORY: “I wouldn’t be achieving anything without all the sacrifice and support of the Chengeta team and supporters. These are “our” achievements, not “my” achievements!”
Unfortunately Rory became very ill with gastroenteritis and malaria the day before he was to fly home to his family. After IV meds and fluids he was able to leave a couple of days later than scheduled, but it will take some time for him to fully recover. The sacrifices made by Rory and his family are many.
Of course he makes light of it:
RORY: “Unfortunately, the recent BBC report on the earth-shattering finding (in my world) from Ethiopia to the effect that the smell of live chickens deters mosquitoes arrived too late for me.
I managed to go down with a bout of Malaria, nicely followed up by the dreaded lurgy (sometimes known as gastroenteritis). Other members of the noble poultry family, the quacks, have advised me that there is still more evil lurking within and have advised further blood sucking in order to identify this last member of this fowl trinity.
Whilst dwelling on my misery (and making the most whilst it last of every drop of sympathy I can winge out of my beloved) I am seriously considering entering future anti poaching missions with a chicken on my shoulder and a cork in my pocket…”
This was the first time we worked with Matt Croucher in the field. We are excited to continue partnering with him and his non-profit, Action Against Poaching. Can you imagine the logistics necessary to get his dummy/training mines and IED’s onto flights to Mali?
FROM RORY: “In ops C-IED and Anti-Mine Training in Mali with Matt Croucher GC.
Rangers in Mali need to know how to spot and deal with mines and IED’s to keep themselves, the community and the Elephants alive.
WILD Foundation are partnered with Chengeta Wildlife and Action Against Poaching providing in-ops training to the Malian Anti Poaching Brigade in intelligent and responsible methods.
This is possibly the most dangerous anti-poaching mission in the world. Rangers not only have to deal with attacks by poachers but also by terrorists and bandits, using IED’s, landmines, heavy machine guns, rocket propelled grenades. Last month one ranger was burned alive and his colleague shot outside their home whilst on down time.
Despite all if this, the answer still comes down to community. The reasonable man. So far the Elephants have survived thanks to WILD Foundation’s intelligent work with the communities. The rangers and other armed forces provide the necessary support to deal with the criminal and terrorist elements threatening both the communities and the Elephants they are striving to protect.
A model for all of Africa. Intelligent Anti-poaching.”
The photos in this post are courtesy of Angie Ra, (pictured above) a filmmaker documenting our Mali work and the work of rangers protecting wildlife across Africa. Angie’s Facebook page: “Boots on The Ground”
I learned as a child that there is a switch that you can just flick on that will block out the most pitiful scenes and the most horrible sounds. However, I also learned that when you use that switch there is a secret device deep inside you which turns itself on and records what you would rather not remember.
Later you learn that that terrible device can choose to remind you of anything it pleases at any time. One has to pay later for turning away by having it all come back. Sometimes it even decides to ignore your attempts to use it and instead turns up your senses and forces you to see, smell, hear and feel everything around you and even what has already been and gone.
Such a time came to me recently. In the picture you will notice the large elephant skull of a poached forest elephant. What may not be so noticeable is that she was a mother and I am holding the skull of her dead baby in my hands.
Who watched who die first? Did the little one see it’s mother struck down in agony? And as she fell did the mother foresee her joy would slowly starve to death in terror and terrible sadness next to her own useless rotting, faceless carcass? Or did the mother see her baby slaughtered before her?
The world has gone mad.
Sometimes the weight of the knowledge that if I get it wrong, if I don’t teach the rangers what they need to know and do to stop this insanity, I will be as much to blame as those who have gone out and butchered all this life is hard to bear. I wish so often that someone else was standing in my shoes.
I feel very, very weary right now.
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!”
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!
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.) 🙂
The training is funded and organized by Chengeta Wildlife and ALERT under the auspices of the Malawi Department of National Parks and Wildlife.
One of these ladies is giving the men a run for their money in terms of physical fitness, able to perform more pull ups, sit ups and push ups than many of the men. All of these women are hard workers and are showing admirable dedication. This training is tough and the operations are exhausting and often dangerous.
Women can and do play a crucial role in all aspects of operations, including under cover work, tracking, apprehension and everything else. In many areas they are more adept than men and provide valuable and different insights and perspectives.
They are treated as equals and with respect by the men and are fiercely proud of what they do. The men are also very proud of them.
I will try to keep the short updates and non security sensitive insights coming.
Thank you for your continued support.
The thatch on my hut has been leaking so I have been jumping up as the rain has gotten heavier during the night to move food and kit (and myself) around to keep it dry…
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.