By Emma Stokes
One evening last June, wildlife rangers heard a burst of gunfire in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They followed the sound to a group of poachers attacking elephants for their ivory. When confronted, the poachers opened fire with an arsenal that included PKMs, AKs, G3s, and FNs. Outgunned, the rangers beat a hasty retreat.
The details may vary, but this basic scene takes place in elephant landscapes all across Africa and Asia today. Poachers in the illegal wildlife trade are heavily armed, technologically advanced, and increasingly prepared to put themselves at even greater risk as the potential financial rewards climb higher.
These developments have put conservationists on the front lines of an ever more challenging, dangerous, and resource-intensive battle.
A spike in demand has sent ivory prices skyrocketing, with the result that sophisticated criminal syndicates and other groups have entered the ivory market to finance their illegal activities. The poachers in the DRC, it was later learned, were members of Joseph Kony's infamous guerrillas, the Lord's Resistance Army.
Combating these malefactors requires a well-armed ranger force with a level of management and tactical training not often found in protected areas across the developing world. Although national parks and similar conservation areas face some of the gravest threats to wildlife, their local guards are frequently understaffed, poorly equipped, and without access to basic information on where poaching happens and when. This knowledge is pivotal for wildlife managers. To quickly access such information, conservation groups are turning to technological solutions to better assist local security forces. More....