By Elizabeth L. Bennett
Over the past 20 years, chimpanzees, gorillas and other great apes have declined the most in areas lacking a security force to protect them. Conversely, parks and protected areas with armed guards and anti-poaching patrols — places like Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo, Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda — have not only retained their ape populations, but have seen population increases.
This connection extends beyond great apes. The Albertine Rift in Central Africa has over the past 50 years demonstrated the benefits of a close tie between law enforcement and the survival of diverse species. In Asia, the government’s training and deployment of park guards in Thailand’s most important reserve, the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, has led to seven years of population stability in tigers and other wildlife, in contrast to dramatic declines in nearby unprotected parks.
This only makes sense. We don’t leave our valuables unprotected. Guards patrol art galleries and museums to secure our cultural heritage. We should be taking the same approach to safeguarding our natural heritage.
The urgency for the training and deployment of guards to protect wildlife across the globe could not be greater. Only last November, Africa’s western black rhino officially became extinct. Wild tiger numbers are down to 3,200 from over 100,000 a century ago. Roughly half of Africa’s elephants have been killed for the ivory trade since 1987. Sadly, the list goes on.
The most effective protection inevitably involves the long-term efforts of committed park rangers patrolling protected areas with the endorsement and support of local communities. More....