Wildlife poaching is not new, it has taken on many forms over the eons of time, yet today is more destructive than ever before.
Across the whole of Africa, many species are under a serious threat of extinction due to a proliferation of poaching. Having recently written about the wildlife poaching crises for several species, it’s a refreshing change to be able to write about those dedicating their lives to diminishing it and saving the lives of iconic animals like lions, elephants and rhinos.
Wildlife poaching has become more and more sophisticated over time: as poaching cartels are increasingly being funded by terrorist organisations, their poaching strategies have become more erudite, their equipment more high-tech.
There is no single solution to this issue. Each problem these beautiful animals face is a complicated network of issues that has led to a catastrophic loss in numbers due to the greed of monetary gain and notoriety. The growing black market of items for traditional medicines, status symbol ornaments and lucrative trading deals means animals will never be safe.
Whilst their tragic demise grows exponentially, individuals across Africa make daily sacrifices, take daily risks and perform daily miracles to save those most at risk from poaching.
Peter Milton – hero for rhinos
In South Africa, Peter Milton, founder of SPOTS (Strategic Protection of Threatened Species), has made it his mission to protect rhinos. Whilst SPOTS was set up as a broad-based conservation company, the escalation of the increase of rhino poaching – an increase of 5,000% since 2007 – means he now spends 70% of his time on protecting them.
Peter grew up in the Kalahari in South Africa and has a strong affiliation with the wildlife there. He believes dealing with poachers in South Africa needs a “multi-faceted strategy and approach” that begins with “international pressure on the South African, Chines [and] Vietnamese governments and the governments of all other countries [that] are illegally trading in animal parts.’
Rhino could be extinct within 10 years. This impact on the ecosystem also puts at risk other species that interact with rhinos, meaning they too could become endangered and face extinction. So, Peter’s work is about saving all African animals, too.
An aerial view of conservation
Poachers tend to strike at night, when there is plenty of moonlight to use as they are unable to use artificial light without giving their location away. They are most active at dusk and in the early hours of the morning and tracking them on the grounds is a tricky and risky business.
Peter’s approach to combatting poaching is using drones or UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). They have proved far more effective than helicopters as they are quieter. Just one drone, fitted with a thermal imaging camera, can do the work of 40 men on the ground. There is no risk to life and they can fly into areas men can’t easily traverse.
Using GPS, the silent drones ‘eyes’ are able to provide vital intel, such as how many poachers there are, if they’re armed and exactly where they are. Thus, they can be apprehended before a rhino is killed.
More support is needed
Whilst the ‘Air Rangers’, as Peter has named them, remain faithful to supporting anti-poaching, the killing of rhinos continues. This highlights a desperate need for more drones, more rangers and more hi-tech equipment: night vision goggles, DNA kits and FLIR cameras as well as basic camping gear are especially needed and online contributions go towards this but it isn’t enough.
Their methods are effective on a small scale but due to the cost of protecting animals from poaching, the South African government isn’t interested in supporting the funding of, or increasing, these programmes. Rhino continue to be killed by poachers using militia-style strategies, weapons and equipment. Therefore, traditional anti-poaching methods aren’t effective – they put under-armed rangers at risk. Peter and his team need sophisticated systems and equipment to contend with poachers. More training and more equipment can be purchased but they need donations.
Care to help?
Malawian wildlife poaching
Malawi is said to be the poorest African country with over 8 million living in poverty. It is hardly surprising that poaching is a problem and not just of animals but of trees. Elephants are poached for ivory and bush meat, whilst trees are cut down to make charcoal and sold commercially. It is responsible for much of the deforestation in the country.
Thuma Forest in central Malawi is a relatively unknown area. It is home not only to a variety of animals but plants and trees, making it a hotspot for biodiversity. Human encroachment is a big issue but one woman and her team of scouts work tirelessly to protect the habitat and the animals in this 197km2 area.
Lynn Clifford and WAG (Wildlife Action Group)
WAG manages the Thuma Forest Reserve on behalf of the Malawian Government and Nature Conservation. Lynn and her team of 12 ranger scouts work indefatigably to keep poachers out of the reserve – no mean feat when the forest is surrounded on all sides by villages who all with their own chiefs and leaders. Lynn states double the amount of scouts are needed to be effective.
Poachers in Malawi often use snares to entrap the elephants. Snares are particularly punishing – catching prey which then starves to death in excruciating pain. Some escape but are maimed. For Lynn and her ranger scouts, their job involves chasing and apprehending armed poachers; documenting and detecting poaching activity; removing snares before they hurt animals and coaxing elephants away from human communities. They cover a huge area – far bigger than 12 ranger scouts can cope with. Their pay is low, their dedication high.
Success in the face of challenge
In spite of the challenges, Lynn has been very successful in her anti-poaching methods and most poachers are prosecuted, then imprisoned or fined. For success to be achieved, Lynn has to uphold honesty amongst all those involved: scouts are called in to testify and Lynn remains involved, vocal and visible.
Each year, Lynn raises money to slowly fence the entire forest. This ensures there is no human-wildlife conflict between the small group of elephants there and the villagers in the surrounding communities.
Life in the Thuma Forest Reserve means a very basic living: there’s no running water, solar power to charge electronics by day and nothing but wildlife as far as the eyes can see. The team lives in the bush, deep in the mountainous region. But, this is Lynn’s life… and she loves it!
Ready to help save more elephants?
With so many species in Africa now on the endangered list, we must all work together to save the remaining animals and prevent a multi-extinction of Africa’s iconic mammals from wildlife poaching syndicates.
Contributed by Liz Hoyle
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