The Destruction of Ivory Poaching and the Illegal Wildlife Trade: Part 4

We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.
— Immanuel Kant

Anti-Poaching Rangers

The requirement for inspiring urgent political action towards the safekeeping of the planet’s species cannot be overstated. This responsibility should transcend all levels of industry, business, and society as we strive for a generation of people that give, not take. Increasing pressure on the world’s natural assets is simply not sustainable.

Around the world, 595 rangers died while working between 2009 and 2016. Many of them were murdered by armed poachers. Anti-poaching rangers form the first and last line of defence for nature. Without the right training, equipment, management and support they cannot defend the World’s natural heritage for future generations.

Across much of Africa anti-poaching tactics have remained largely unchanged for decades. Small groups of under trained and poorly equipped rangers are sent out for days on end to conduct patrols in remote and dangerous locations. Modern-day poachers have evolved and routinely utilise military tactics and equipment to kill high-target species, such as elephants, rhinos and gorillas. In the cross-fire, rangers are also killed. Seeing this shortfall, organizations such as the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) set out in 2009 to fill the gap.

The IAPF has a structured approach to conservation, employing the relevant tactics and technology to defend wildlife from the ever-increasing threat of poaching within protected areas. Anti-poaching, however, is only a portion of the conservation solution. To be a part of successful projects, the IAPF works alongside partners who specialise in community engagement and development, research and development, wildlife rescue and biodiversity management.

Anti-poaching protects community assets, creates jobs, promotes training and education, and reduces habitat destruction. In the many water stressed countries of southern Africa, future generations will depend on these critical natural environments for their very well-being. They have deployed projects in Kenya, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. 

Using Technology to Find Poachers

Poaching has become a hot topic for technology to tackle. Hidden and remote cameras and technologies have long played a role in conservation to find locations and movements of animals and study them and now they are increasingly being used to track poachers. Some of the world's biggest technology companies are using artificial intelligence, facial recognition software, drones and satellite tracking to assist in the battle against the illegal wildlife trade.

Intel is supplying cameras that can recognise human figures to help quickly identify trespassers for ranger teams. Their hidden cameras, known as Trailguard AI, will be deployed this year to the Serengeti by wildlife charity Resolve to protect elephants, and will also be brought to Africa and South East Asia. In the Serengeti, Intel claims its new cameras can help augment the capabilities of 150 rangers when they are tracking and monitoring poachers.

"It is about making sure [technology] is context specific and it responds to the needs of people working on the ground rather than retrofitting it to a situation," said Paul De Ornellas, chief science adviser at the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). In 2014, an effort to bring anti-poaching drones to Namibia by the WWF, sponsored for USD $5 million by Google, was driven out of the country by the government, citing security concerns about the drones. Specialised infrared cameras are being used in the Maasai Mara in Kenya. These infrared systems, deployed by the WWF and developed by Flir Systems, have led to dozens of arrests of poachers. In Malawi, specialised thermal imaging BatHawk drones, from the non-profit African Parks and commercial drone operator UAV & Drone Solutions have been trialed.

Not all conservationists are convinced by the need for technology: "All this tech comes along and a heck of a lot of it proves to be useless and expensive," says Adam Welz, an independent conservationist. Many poachers come heavily armed and in South Africa rangers have to risk their lives for as little as a few hundred dollars per month, meaning tech experiments rather than additional boots on the ground are not always welcomed.

In the case of the drones, Mr. Welz adds they are banned above parks in some cases in Kenya and Namibia, and some of the small drones have limitations, such as their lightweight batteries lasting around 30 minutes, make them hard to use in the vast wilderness. Mr. Welz points to the ethical challenge of turning a wildlife park into a veritable armed enclosure, of drones and thermal detectors. Ultimately, he wonders whether this cash could go better towards helping local communities who turn to poaching as a way to escape poverty.

The Meerkat System in the Kruger National Park in South Africa has proved a success as it uses remote thermal imaging cameras and is solar powered and portable, so it can be transported by truck or helicopter to hotspots. The system claimed to catch 90 poachers in its first six months of operation in 2017.

In collaboration with the US group Digital Democracy, a drone operation in Guyana, South America helped map lands for the local Wapichana indigenous people so they could stake their claim against illegal logging companies to 7 million acres. They have also built an online early warning system, using satellite data.