By Daniel Stiles
Elephant and rhino poaching in Africa have been rising; the Western black rhino has just been declared extinct. Demand in Asia, particularly China, for these animals' tusks and horns has been identified as the main cause of the rise in poaching. Many organisations are moving towards a militarised anti-poacher approach, but there is scant evidence this approach is working.
The media, guided by certain non-governmental organisations, have reported claims that terrorist groups such as Al-Shabaab and the Janjaweed are funded by elephant poaching. The shocking Westgate Mall incident in Nairobi in September was perpetrated by Al-Shabaab. One writer ventured that the attack could have been financed with only five elephant tusks.
Increasingly, elephant poaching is being linked to organised crime and terrorism, elevating the issue to one of national security. Protecting national security inevitably leads to calls for “sophisticated counter-guerilla warfare”.
The call for militarized anti-poaching measures
Are we to see the emergence of anti-poaching Blackwaters to take on the criminals that are massacring precious elephants? Anti-poaching consultant Nir Kalron - who has a military background - says “If ranger units are not sufficient to stop the poaching gangs … military sweeps may be necessary… [A\n aggressive ‘shock’ campaign is in order; to achieve such results, the use of large infantry and Special Forces units is needed.”
He continues, writing that hi-tech surveillance should be used: drones, night-vision goggles, GPS trackers, etc. and that “the creation of focused task forces with ‘carte blanche’ – supported financially and professionally by NGOs and security professionals – will offer a possible recipe for success.”
The highest levels in the US and the UN, supported by conservation and animal welfare NGOs, seem to be buying this message. For example, the recently launched Clinton Global Initiative has pledged a US$80 million effort to fight the illegal ivory trade, with a further US$70 million to be raised specifically for anti-poaching.
Making wildlife a security issue
In 2012, Hillary Clinton (US Secretary of State at the time) publicly called an unprecedented amount of attention to the illegal wildlife trade. More....