12 Aug 2013: Report

The War on African Poaching:
Is Militarization Fated to Fail?

African countries and private game reserves are engaging in an increasingly sophisticated arms race against poachers, yet the slaughter of elephants and rhinos continues. Some experts argue that the battle must be joined on a far wider front that targets demand in Asia and judicial dysfunction in Africa.

by adam welz

Every two weeks or so, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs publishes a rhino poaching update, a running tally of rhinoceroses illegally killed for lucrative Asian black markets, along with a summary of arrests of poachers and rhino horn couriers. The latest, dated August 7, lists 553 rhinos poached so far this year and 147 arrests. South Africa is on track to lose 900 to 1,000 rhinos to poachers in 2013, smashing last year’s macabre record of 668. The epidemic of rhino poaching that broke out in 2008 shows no sign of dying down.

Africa’s elephants are also being shot in extraordinary and rising numbers for their ivory, now a hot-selling status and investment commodity in China. Experts estimate that a mind-boggling 25,000 to 40,000 elephants are being killed annually across the continent, which could be close to 10 percent of the total number remaining, and significantly more than are born each year.

View gallery
Kenya Anti Poaching Squad

Photo by Adam Welz
A Kenyan anti-poaching squad in training at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
Rhino and elephant protectors have sprung into action in an increasingly militarized effort to stamp out this carnage. Governments have given game rangers better weapons, engaged intelligence analysts, and put spotter planes, helicopters, and unmanned drones into the air. Some have deployed their national defense forces into national parks. Private wildlife custodians have spent millions on their own armed anti-poaching guards, sniffer dogs, mini-drones, and informants.

But as the response to rhino and elephant poaching has become progressively more militarized, a stubborn reality remains: The continental-scale slaughter of rhinos and elephants continues to intensify, despite rising arrests and killings of poachers and increasing interdiction of illegal shipments of rhino horn and ivory. And although the toll would no doubt be worse without the anti-poaching efforts, experts say that other aspects of the battle to save Africa’s wildlife — including improving justice systems and launching efforts to reduce consumer demand for wildlife products — have been given short shrift.

“You’re not going to just enforce your way out of this,” says Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid, a California-based conservation group that focuses on the consumer side of the illegal wildlife trade. “You’re never going to stop [poaching] by just putting new boots on guys in Africa because it’s a [game of] whack-a-mole.”

Knights believes that illicit wildlife products “always find their way out” to consumers who are willing to pay for them. That view is echoed by some drug policy experts, who liken the uphill battle against African poaching to the war on drugs, where the militarized enforcement-and-interdiction approach has been an extraordinarily expensive, bloody failure. “Where there is persistent demand for an illegal substance, there will be supply,” Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based group that advocates for drug policy reform, told me.

The effort to stem the tide of rhino and elephant poaching has become a global concern. Saying that wildlife crime undermines security — a thinly disguised reference to terrorism — U.S. President Barack Obama last
Unmanned aircraft and two companies of soldiers have been deployed in Kruger National Park.
month announced a new Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking.

No place better illustrates the challenges of protecting pachyderms than South Africa’s Kruger National Park, which has lost far more rhinos than any other African park in recent years. It has come under siege by poachers working for criminal networks that smuggle the horns — used in traditional Chinese medicine — through neighboring Mozambique to illegal markets in Asia.

South African National Parks’ (SANParks) first response to the outbreak of poaching in 2008 was to ramp up conventional ranger patrols in Kruger, home to thousands of rhinos. Poachers, mainly from Mozambique, responded by coming in larger groups, a “triggerman” with a heavy-caliber hunting rifle and “guards” carrying AK-47s. They weren’t shy about shooting at rangers, and many firefights ensued, some with fatal results. SANParks began retraining and better arming its rangers, who arrested and shot more poachers, but it wasn’t enough — the poachers kept coming in even greater numbers.

In 2011 the South African National Defense Force deployed two companies of troops, 265 men, in and around the park to help with the fight. Park enforcers got more air support, including more helicopters. A new spotter plane was donated by a South African arms exporter in late 2012, and various unmanned aircraft — including sophisticated military drones made by South African arms manufacturer Denel — have recently been deployed over the park on a trial basis. “Many arrests are now made with air support,” a spokesperson for SANParks told me.

View gallery
Black Rhino South Africa

Photo by Adam Welz
A black rhinoceros at South Africa’s Phinda Private Game Reserve.
SANParks has an annual anti-poaching budget of about $7.5 million, much of that spent in Kruger, and support worth millions more is provided by other government departments and private donors. More poachers are being arrested than ever before, and at least 23 have been shot dead by rangers since 2008. Nevertheless, the rhino slaughter is intensifying: So far this year, 345 rhino have been poached in the park, more than double the number killed in the first seven months of 2012.

Scores of rhino charities now collect millions of dollars annually around the world for public and private anti-poaching efforts across Africa. South Africa’s large private game farming and wildlife safari industries also now collectively spend millions of dollars annually on new armed guards. Most anti-poaching companies offer military-style training, and some are operated by South African soldiers of fortune who have worked for U.S. security contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq.

One company, Diceros, is marketing an integrated system made up of U.S. and South African military and security industry technology that includes high-definition radar, in-earth microphones, communications interception, long-range cameras, and drones. The company says that its gear currently monitors cattle rustlers and other smugglers on and around Lake Victoria in central Africa’s Rift Valley, with great success.

WWF is researching integrated high-tech, drone-centered surveillance systems in the arid north of Namibia. Funded by a $5 million grant from Google, WWF’s aim is to find reliable ways of integrating imagery from
A key failing lies in the continent’s judicial systems, where judges don’t take wildlife crime seriously.
unarmed drones with real-time information about the location of poachers, armed ranger patrols, and electronically tagged rhinos so that rangers can be optimally deployed to protect the animals. Crawford Allan, a senior WWF/TRAFFIC wildlife crime expert, said that the project had been approached by dozens of drone manufacturers because “their military contracts are depleting and they’re looking for civilian applications” for their aircraft.

Kenya, which has lost a steadily increasing number of elephants and rhinos in recent years, has also entered the arms race with poachers, increasing its government budget for armed ranger patrols and just last week announcing a new, elite anti-poaching unit.

Many other African countries, including Botswana, Gabon and Cameroon, have deployed military units to conservation areas in recent years in response to increased poaching, including high-profile mass killings of elephants in central Africa by poachers with links to Janjaweed militias in Sudan.

Still, the epidemic rages on, prompting many experts to argue that a wider effort is needed. A key failing, conservationists say, lies in the continent’s justice systems, where evidence collection is often botched, prosecutions poorly handled, and judges often don’t take wildlife crime seriously, which sends the message that poaching is no big deal. Although some low-ranking “triggermen” have been caught and jailed in South Africa, cases against higher-level kingpins have dragged out for years.

In Kenya, conservationists were outraged when two guards implicated in a recent, brazen theft of ivory from an allegedly secure government stockpile were fired but not prosecuted. On July 1, a former U.S. defense attache, David McNevin, was caught at Nairobi airport with illegal ivory in his luggage. Despite the case’s high profile, his only punishment was a fine of about $350.

Incidents like these have amplified calls for poaching to be treated as seriously as drug smuggling and terrorism, with which, criminologists
A well-crafted social awareness campaign in Asia could drastically reduce demand for rhino horn and ivory.
point out, it is often linked logistically and financially. President Obama’s new task force on wildlife trafficking is heavily populated by representatives from the departments involved in anti-drug and anti-terror efforts.

But, like the war on drugs, there are early signs that the war on poaching is plagued by the so-called “balloon effect.”

“When you suppress drug production in one area, it pops up in another” because consumer demand persists, said Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance. The South African rhino crisis, for example, was preceded by a little-publicized wave of poaching in neighboring Zimbabwe, said Jo Shaw, WWF-South Africa’s rhino policy expert. Conservationists responded by relocating the country’s remaining animals into relatively small “intensive protection” zones, after which poaching took off in South Africa.

Wildlife traffickers are already shifting illicit transport routes in response to interdiction efforts through countries with weak controls, such as Togo. Some of the largest illegal ivory consignments recently interdicted in Asia, involving thousands of tusks, have originated at Togo’s port, Lome. Since Togo probably has a population of fewer than 65 elephants, the ivory clearly comes from elsewhere. In southern Africa, smugglers now avoid going through Johannesburg’s international airport, preferring the nearby, more poorly policed airport in Maputo, Mozambique.

If enforcement and interdiction is not sufficient, what else night work? Nadelmann cites a case from the drug world involving the club drug Ecstacy, popular in the 1990s. Its popularity declined rapidly after dealers began adulterating its main ingredient with other substances, thus destroying its reputation among users. Nadelmann suggested that “creative interventions in the market” designed to create distrust among Asian buyers about the quality or value of rhino horn and ivory might lower demand.

Some South African rhino owners are already attempting to degrade the value of rhino horn by injecting a combination of toxic insecticides and indelible dye into live animals’ horns. The toxic dye concoction will likely sicken (but not kill) consumers and will also make the horns more visible on x-ray machines. It’s too early to say if this has reduced demand, but owners are confident that it at least inspires poachers to avoid shooting animals with tainted horns.

Photo Essay: To Catch a Rhino
Capturing Animals to Save Them

Photos Rhino Poaching in South Africa
Journalist Adam Welz documents the harrowing capture of six white rhinos in South Africa for relocation to neighboring Botswana.
VIEW THE PHOTO ESSAY
Some media-savvy conservation groups say that well-crafted public relations and social awareness campaigns in Asia could significantly reduce demand for rhino horn and ivory, pointing to recent successes by a campaign to cut shark fin use. WildAid, which has produced slick video spots featuring celebrities to persuade Asians not to consume shark fin soup, said that shark fin imports into Hong Kong, a major hub for the trade, dropped by more than 70 percent from 2011 to 2012 as the campaign took effect.

WildAid’s Peter Knights said that the group has recently produced spots against rhino horn and ivory consumption, but had struggled for over a decade to fund them. It’s extremely difficult to raise money for campaigns to reduce demand, said Crawford Allan of WWF/TRAFFIC, because “donors like to see boots on the ground and technology.” Other conservationists say that donors, politicians, and the media find images of armed anti-poaching patrols, drones, and military equipment “sexy,” lamenting that the multi-faceted nature of the struggle to save rhinos and elephants is often glossed over.

Knights told me that policymakers have recently shown greater interest in targeting demand in Asia. Meanwhile, the stakes for rhinos and elephants get higher by the day, as ever-stronger groups of poachers continue to reap their harvests across Africa.

POSTED ON 12 Aug 2013 IN Biodiversity Biodiversity Climate Forests Policy & Politics Science & Technology Africa Europe 

COMMENTS


Thanks for an informative article, Adam. I am by no means an expert on the subject, but as a wildlife lover and founder of one of the many NPO's raising awareness and funds for on the ground wildlife protection I follow the issue.

To end trafficking, of wildlife, guns, drugs and humans, it appears it requires a multifaceted approach.

1) To end the demand as Knight works tirelessly to do
2) To stop the poachers on the ground which the rangers and law enforcement put themselves at risk to accomplish
3) To update the laws so the judicial system can prosecute to adequately act as a deterrent.
4) To go after the crime syndicate bosses to root out the bad apples and dismantle the network

Posted by Wildllife Margrit on 12 Aug 2013


Already nations that feel the heat of the outraged citizens across the world are seeking to file some of these animals under farm designations, for the obvious reasons. I'm astounded, really, that animals have been so easily persecuted for mankind's history. Both religion and science have left the animal kingdom as the dirt beneath our feet, something either we are blessed with dominion over, or something that is so much 'less' than us to be deemed void of feeling, fear, love, or choice. In the laws of the so called civilized world, we have all failed them, and this is the result.

Now, we all are witness to the slaughtering rampage, and still those that seek to protect these animals are left signing petitions and begging for the end of trade of their dead parts. No one hears that? Too much money being made in top echelons? Too radical a thought? There should be an international emergency law now, to call for a moratorium on all trade of wildlife. Time to heal is overdue, and not going to come any other way.

True leadership that is worth having would exercise this option immediately. President Obama or any leader could, by executive order, ban the import and sale of ivory, and begin the process. What, exactly, is the excuse not to do this?

Posted by Marilyn C on 13 Aug 2013


Interesting Adam, thank you. I've produced a mini TV doccie on a particular angle of rhino poaching for Carte Blanche (if you remember?) out here in SA, and have just finished a multimedia iBook on the subject, due on the iStore imminently. I'm in Cape Town and would like to be in touch when you have a moment.

Regards

Posted by Angus on 15 Aug 2013


Great article and, yes, I have been stressing the same issues for a while now. The only problem we have in Africa is you are not going to fix judicial dysfunction, so we need to focus on end user demand and all funds/donation need to ploughed into marketing exercises as is being done with the shark fin. This is easier to do than stopping drug abuse as there is no "kick" and the cool factor can soon be uncool!

Posted by William Maliepaard on 15 Aug 2013


Nice article, Adam

Posted by Rael Loon on 21 Aug 2013


Yes, this article is really useful. Thanks.
Posted by Bill Onford on 29 Aug 2013


Make the sale of ivory legal.
Posted by Jim T. on 25 Sep 2013


POST A COMMENT

Comments are moderated and will be reviewed before they are posted to ensure they are on topic, relevant, and not abusive. They may be edited for length and clarity. By filling out this form, you give Yale Environment 360 permission to publish this comment.

Name 
Email address 
Comment 
 
Please type the text shown in the graphic.


adam welzABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam Welz is a South African writer, photographer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York. His work includes an award-winning film about eccentric birders in New York City and exposés of environmental crime throughout southern Africa. Welz is a member of the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective. In an earlier article for Yale Environment 360, he wrote about how an increasingly sophisticated market for rhino horns is decimating rhinoceros populations in Africa.
MORE BY THIS AUTHOR

 
 

RELATED ARTICLES


Unsustainable Seafood: A New
Crackdown on Illegal Fishing

A recent study shows that a surprisingly large amount of the seafood sold in U.S. markets is caught illegally. In a series of actions over the last few months, governments and international regulators have started taking aim at stopping this illicit trade in contraband fish.
READ MORE

A Public Relations Drive to
Stop Illegal Rhino Horn Trade

Conservation groups are mounting campaigns to persuade Vietnamese consumers that buying rhino horn is decidedly uncool. But such efforts are likely to succeed only as part of a broader initiative to crack down on an illicit trade that is decimating African rhino populations.
READ MORE

Poaching Pangolins: An Obscure
Creature Faces Uncertain Future

The pangolin does not make headlines the way elephants or rhinos do. But the survival of this uncharismatic, armor-plated animal is being threatened by a gruesome trade in its meat and its scales.
READ MORE

The Scientist as Guardian:
A Tool for Protecting the Wild

An expanding body of evidence shows that the presence of field biologists and their assistants is playing an important part in deterring poaching, illegal logging, and other destructive activities in the world’s parks and wildlife reserves.
READ MORE

To Catch a Rhino: Capturing
Animals in Order to Save Them

Six white rhinos were captured recently at a reserve in South Africa for eventual relocation to neighboring Botswana, which has lost its entire rhino population to poaching. E360 contributor Adam Welz joined the operation and produced a photo essay that documents the harrowing process.
READ MORE

 

MORE IN Reports


Why Restoring Wetlands
Is More Critical Than Ever

by bruce stutz
Along the Delaware River estuary, efforts are underway to restore wetlands lost due to centuries of human activity. With sea levels rising, coastal communities there and and elsewhere in the U.S. and Europe are realizing the value of wetlands as important buffers against flooding and tidal surges.
READ MORE

Primate Rights vs Research:
Battle in Colombian Rainforest

by chris kraul
A Colombian conservationist has been locked in a contentious legal fight against a leading researcher who uses wild monkeys in his search for a malaria vaccine. A recent court decision that banned the practice is seen as a victory in efforts to restrict the use of monkeys in medical research.
READ MORE

Scientists Look for Causes of
Baffling Die-Off of Sea Stars

by eric wagner
Sea stars on both coasts of North America are dying en masse from a disease that kills them in a matter of days. Researchers are looking at various pathogens that may be behind what is known as sea star wasting syndrome, but they suspect that a key contributing factor is warming ocean waters.
READ MORE

Loss of Snowpack and Glaciers
In Rockies Poses Water Threat

by ed struzik
From the Columbia River basin in the U.S. to the Prairie Provinces of Canada, scientists and policy makers are confronting a future in which the loss of snow and ice in the Rocky Mountains could imperil water supplies for agriculture, cities and towns, and hydropower production.
READ MORE

On Front Lines of Recycling,
Turning Food Waste into Biogas

by rachel cernansky
An increasing number of sewage treatment plants in the U.S. and Europe are processing food waste in anaerobic biodigesters, keeping more garbage out of landfills, reducing methane emissions, and producing energy to defray their operating costs.
READ MORE

Can Waterless Dyeing Processes
Clean Up the Clothing Industry?

by lydia heida
One of the world’s most polluting industries is the textile-dyeing sector, which in China and other Asian nations releases trillions of liters of chemically tainted wastewater. But new waterless dyeing technologies, if adopted on a large scale, could sharply cut pollution from the clothing industry.
READ MORE

How Weeds Could Help Feed
Billions in a Warming World

by lisa palmer
Scientists in the U.S. and elsewhere are conducting intensive experiments to cross hardy weeds with food crops such as rice and wheat. Their goal is to make these staples more resilient as higher temperatures, drought, and elevated CO2 levels pose new threats to the world’s food supply.
READ MORE

New Desalination Technologies
Spur Growth in Recyling Water

by cheryl katz
Desalination has long been associated with one process — turning seawater into drinking water. But a host of new technologies are being developed that not only are improving traditional desalination but opening up new frontiers in reusing everything from agricultural water to industrial effluent.
READ MORE

As Dairy Farms Grow Bigger,
New Concerns About Pollution

by elizabeth grossman
Dairy operations in the U.S. are consolidating, with ever-larger numbers of cows concentrated on single farms. In states like Wisconsin, opposition to some large operations is growing after manure spills and improper handling of waste have contaminated waterways and aquifers.
READ MORE

In New Delhi, A Rough Road
For Bus Rapid Transit Systems

by mike ives
High-speed bus systems in crowded urban areas have taken off from Brazil to China, but introducing this form of mass transit to the teeming Indian capital of New Delhi has proven to be a vexing challenge.
READ MORE


e360 digest
Yale
Yale Environment 360 is
a publication of the
Yale School of Forestry
& Environmental Studies
.

SEARCH e360



Donate to Yale Environment 360
Yale Environment 360 Newsletter

CONNECT

Twitter: YaleE360
e360 on Facebook
Donate to e360
View mobile site
Bookmark
Share e360
Subscribe to our newsletter
Subscribe to our feed:
rss


ABOUT

About e360
Contact
Submission Guidelines
Reprints

E360 en Español

Universia partnership
Yale Environment 360 articles are now available in Spanish and Portuguese on Universia, the online educational network.
Visit the site.


DEPARTMENTS

Opinion
Reports
Analysis
Interviews
Forums
e360 Digest
Podcasts
Video Reports

TOPICS

Biodiversity
Business & Innovation
Climate
Energy
Forests
Oceans
Policy & Politics
Pollution & Health
Science & Technology
Sustainability
Urbanization
Water

REGIONS

Antarctica and the Arctic
Africa
Asia
Australia
Central & South America
Europe
Middle East
North America

e360 PHOTO GALLERY

“Peter
Photographer Peter Essick documents the swift changes wrought by global warming in Antarctica, Greenland, and other far-flung places.
View the gallery.

e360 MOBILE

Mobile
The latest
from Yale
Environment 360
is now available for mobile devices at e360.yale.edu/mobile.

e360 VIDEO

Warriors of Qiugang
The Warriors of Qiugang, a Yale Environment 360 video that chronicles the story of a Chinese village’s fight against a polluting chemical plant, was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). Watch the video.


header image
Top Image: aerial view of Iceland. © Google & TerraMetrics.

e360 VIDEO

Colorado River Video
In a Yale Environment 360 video, photographer Pete McBride documents how increasing water demands have transformed the Colorado River, the lifeblood of the arid Southwest. Watch the video.

OF INTEREST



Yale