Training is the best weapon against poaching
HOEDSPRUIT - The relentless onslaught on our rhinos continues. The latest statistics tell us that up to October 16, 455 rhinos have been killed in South Africa this year, 272 of these in the Kruger National Park.
We are certainly not accepting what’s happening without a fight. There are more than 20 anti-poaching operations in the Hoedspruit area alone. K2C paid a visit to one of the more recent additions, the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) and its associate, the Eco Ranger Conservation Services, to find out what they were bringing into the business.
IAPF was founded by Damien Mander, a former member of the Australian Special Forces. He travelled through Africa on holiday and stopped at Victoria Falls, where he worked for a time as a volunteer in anti-poaching. This became a turning point in his life; he sold all his property in Australia and started IAPF in Zimbabwe in late 2009. The objective of IAPF is to provide training, free of charge, for anti-poaching rangers. IAPF believes that it’s ‘quality, not quantity’ that matters, and it’s not the number of rangers on the ground that’s important, but their training and equipment.
Johan (JC) Strauss met Damien Mander during an emergency workshop in Eastern Cape in early 2011. In 1998, he had launched Eco Ranger, an organisation which trained wildlife rangers and dangerous game guides. They teamed up to start Eco Academy, a programme of anti-poaching training in South Africa in conjunction with the Wilderness Foundation, with initially no other funding except their own. They are developing a new concept of training, and also a complete anti-poaching strategy in ten steps: from information and intelligence, through different aspects of prevention, to capacity building and crisis management. A central command structure/system is a key element, and they are in discussion with local organisations to unify local activities. An area integrity course to assist the local collaboration has is planned for when funding becomes available.
The April 2012 Emergency Rhino Summit, held in Kenya, was a key moment for the IAPF and the Eco Academy, when they decided to put in place a comprehensive management training programme in response to the call for action. The new Anti-Poaching Ranger qualification will go much further than the standard Conservation Guardianship qualification. Standardising the training will unify a fragmented industry, facilitate joint operations, and allow rotation. It will also create a recognised qualification and help the rangers to progress in their careers.
The anti-poaching strategy is at the moment in its first phase of training and gathering of intelligence. Johan Strauss strongly emphasises community involvement; ‘no war has been won without community support’. Poorly paid people find it only too easy to accept if they are offered the equivalent of a year’s salary for information helping poachers. Finally, on the burning issue of legalising the rhino horn trade, the IAPF and Eco Academy do not take sides, and say that it’s a case of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’. Until a decision is made by CITES, the best options are well-trained, well-equipped units on the ground, backed up by good intelligence.