Tag Archives: militarization of conservation

Biodiversity and Respect for Human Rights

The instinctive response of many environmentalists  is to to fence off protected areas as rapidly and extensively as possible. That thought certainly dominates discussions of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the main relevant international treaty. An eight-year-old addendum to the pact calls for 17% of the world’s land surface and 10% of the ocean’s water column (that is, the water under 10% of the ocean’s surface) to be protected by 2020. Currently, those figures are 15% and 6%. Campaigners want the next set of targets, now under discussion, to aim for 30% by 2030—and even 50% by 2050. This last goal, biogeographers estimate, would preserve 85% of life’s richness in the long run.  As rallying cries go, “Nature needs half” has a ring to it, but not one that sounds so tuneful in the poor countries where much of the rhetorically required half will have to be found. Many people in such places already feel Cornered by Protected Areas.” (See also Biodiversity and Human Rights)

James Watson, chief scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society (wcs), another American charity, has an additional worry about focusing on the fence-it-off approach. If you care about the presence of species rather than the absence of humans, he warns, “‘nature needs half’ could be a catastrophe—if you get the wrong half.” Many terrestrial protected areas are places that are mountainous or desert or both. Expanding them may not translate into saving more species. Moreover, in 2009 Lucas Joppa and Alexander Pfaff, both then at Duke University in North Carolina, showed that protected areas disproportionately occupy land that could well be fine even had it been left unprotected: agriculture-unfriendly slopes, areas remote from transport links or human settlements, and so on. Cordoning off more such places may have little practical effect.

Southern Appalachians, Virginia. image from wikipedia

 In the United States it is the underprotected southern Appalachians, in the south-east of the country, that harbour the main biodiversity hotspots. The largest patches of ring-fenced wilderness, however, sit in the spectacular but barren mountain ranges of the west and north-west. In Brazil, the world’s most speciose country, the principal hotspots are not, as might naively be assumed, in the vast expanse of the Amazon basin, but rather in the few remaining patches of Atlantic rainforest that hug the south-eastern coast.

Deforestation Atlantic Rainforest in Rio de Janeiro. Image from wikipedia

Nor is speciosity the only consideration. So is risk-spreading. A team from the University of Queensland, in Australia, led by Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, has used a piece of financial mathematics called modern portfolio theory to select 50 coral reefs around the world as suitable, collectively, for preservation. Just as asset managers pick uncorrelated stocks and bonds in order to spread risk, Dr Hoegh-Guldberg and his colleagues picked reefs that have different exposures to rising water temperatures, wave damage from cyclones and so on. The resulting portfolio includes reefs in northern Sumatra and the southern Red Sea that have not previously registered on conservationists’ radar screens…

Another common finding—counterintuitive to those who take the “fence-it-all-off” approach—is that a mixed economy of conservation and exploitation can work. For example, rates of deforestation in a partly protected region of Peru, the Alto Mayo, declined by 78% between 2011 and 2017, even as coffee production increased from 20 tonnes a year to 500 tonnes.

Environmental groups can also draw on a growing body of academic research into the effective stewardship of particular species. For too long, says William Sutherland, of Cambridge University, conservationists have relied on gut feelings. Fed up with his fellow practitioners’ confident but unsubstantiated claims about their methods, and inspired by the idea of “evidence-based medicine”, he launched, in 2004, an online repository of relevant peer-reviewed literature called Conservation Evidence.  Today this repository contains more than 5,400 summaries of documented interventions. These are rated for effectiveness, certainty and harms. Want to conserve bird life threatened by farming, for example? The repository lists 27 interventions, ranging from leaving a mixture of seed for wild birds to peck (highly beneficial, based on 41 studies of various species in different countries) to marking bird nests during harvest (likely to be harmful or ineffective, based on a single study of lapwing in the Netherlands). The book version of their compendium, “What Works in Conservation”, runs to 662 pages. It has been downloaded 35,000 times.

Excerpts from How to preserve nature on a tight budget, Economist, Feb. 9, 2919

How to Save the Rhino? Torture and Kill Civilians

In national parks across Asia and Africa, the beloved nonprofit WWF  with the cuddly panda logo funds, equips, and works directly with paramilitary forces that have been accused of beating, torturing, sexually assaulting, and murdering scores of people…WWF has provided high-tech enforcement equipment, cash, and weapons to forces implicated in atrocities against indigenous communities…Villagers have been whipped with belts, attacked with machetes, beaten unconscious with bamboo sticks, sexually assaulted, shot, and murdered by WWF-supported anti-poaching units, according to reports and document

 WWF has provided paramilitary forces with salaries, training, and supplies — including knives, night vision binoculars, riot gear, and batons — and funded raids on villages…The charity has operated like a global spymaster, organizing, financing, and running dangerous and secretive networks of informants motivated by “fear” and “revenge,” including within indigenous communities, to provide park officials with intelligence — all while publicly denying working with informants.

The charity funnels large sums of cash to its field offices in the developing world where staff work alongside national governments — including brutal dictatorships — to help maintain and police vast national parks that shelter endangered species. But many parks are magnets for poachers, and WWF expends much of its energy — and money — in a global battle against the organized criminal gangs that prey on the endangered species the charity was founded to protect.  It’s a crusade that WWF refers to in the hardened terms of war. Public statements speak of “boots on the ground,” partnerships with “elite military forces,” the creation of a “Jungle Brigade,” and the deployment of “conservation drones.”  WWF is not alone in its embrace of militarization: Other conservation charities have enlisted in the war on poaching in growing numbers over the past decade, recruiting veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to teach forest rangers counterinsurgency techniques

The enemy is real, and dangerous. Poaching is a billion-dollar industry that terrorizes animals and threatens some species’ very existence. Poachers take advantage of regions ravaged by poverty and violence. And the work of forest rangers is indeed perilous: By one 2018 estimate, poachers killed nearly 50 rangers around the world in the previous year. But like any conflict, WWF’s war on poaching has civilian casualties.

Indigenous people living near one park in southeast Cameroon described a litany of horrors incuding dead-of-night break-ins by men wielding machetes, rifle butt bludgeonings, burn torture involving chilis ground into paste, and homes and camps torched to the ground. Their tormentors in these accounts were not poachers, but the park officials who police them. Although governments employ the rangers, they often rely on WWF to bankroll their work.  …Documents reveal WWF’s own staffers on the ground are often deeply entwined with the rangers’ work — coordinating their operations, jointly directing their raids and patrols alongside government officials, and turning a blind eye to their misdeeds.

Iindigenous groups — both small-fry hunters and innocent bystanders — say they suffer at the hands of the rangers.  Nepal’s park officials were given this free rein decades ago, shortly after WWF first arrived in Chitwan in 1967 to launch a rhinoceros conservation project in a lush lowland forest at the foot of the Himalayas. To clear the way, tens of thousands of indigenous people were evicted from their homes and moved to areas outside the park’s boundaries..

The park’s creation radically changed their way of life: Now they must scrape together money to buy tin for their roofs, pay hospital bills, and farm new crops. They also live in fear of the park’s wild animals, which, while rising in number thanks to anti-poaching efforts, have destroyed crops and mauled people to death.  Rhinoceros horns can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars on the black market. Professional poachers offer a tiny portion to locals who assist them, which can be hard for impoverished residents of villages to turn down.

Chitwan’s forest rangers work alongside over 1,000 soldiers from the park’s army battalion. Nepalese law gives them special power to investigate wildlife-related crimes, make arrests without a warrant, and retain immunity in cases where an officer has “no alternative” but to shoot the offender, even if the suspect dies….. Indigenous groups living near Chitwan have long detailed a host of abuses by these forces. Villagers have reported beatings, torture, sexual assaults, and killings by the park’s guards. They’ve accused park officials of confiscating their firewood and vegetables, and forcing them into unpaid labor.

WWF’s work with violent partners spans the globe. In Central Africa, internal documents show the charity’s close involvement in military-style operations with both a repressive dictatorship and a notoriously fierce army. …The park’s management plan says WWF will help organize raids, known as “coup de poings,” on local villages suspected of harboring poachers. A confidential internal report found that such missions, frequently conducted in the dead of night with the help of police units, were often violent.

Excerpts from WWF Funds Guards Who Have Tortured And Killed People, BuzzFeed News

National Parks: Benin

Benin is hiring scores of extra park rangers and bringing in conservation scientists to rehabilitate part of West Africa’s largest wildlife reserve, which contains big cats and thousands of elephants that have largely died out elsewhere in the region. The W-Arli-Pendjari (WAP) complex is the region’s biggest remaining expanse of savannah, covering more than 30,000 sq km of Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso.

The tiny nation has partnered with NGO African Parks for the 10-year project centred on the 4,800 sq km Pendjari National Park, part of WAP and seen as the most viable tourist hub for the area, officials involved told Reuters.

“Pendjari is an opportunity for Benin and the region,” Jose Pliya, director of Benin’s national tourism agency, told Reuters. “This partnership will help us make it a sustainable tourism destination and a lever for development and employment for Beninoise.”

Boosting ecotourism faces challenges, not least because jihadists are thought to have infiltrated parts of the wider reserve. France, former colonial master of the three nations straddling the park advised it citizens against all travel to the Burkina Faso side of the expanse.

To better police the park, the project will recruit 10 officers or specialists, train 90 guards, set up a satellite communications network and put a 190 km fence around it, a joint statement from African Parks and Benin said.

Excerpts from Moves to save part of west Africa’s last big wildlife refuge, Reuters, June 2, 2017

Animal Slaves: Militarization of conservation

The Bambuti people were the original inhabitants of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the oldest national park in Africa whose boundaries date back to 1925 when it was first carved out by King Albert of Belgium. But forbidden from living or hunting inside, the Bambuti now face repression from both park rangers and armed groups.

Other communities in the park accuse the DRC’s National Park Authority IICCN) of expropriating land without their consent and without providing compensation, but park authorities say that rangers must undertake “legitimate defense” and take action when people in the park “recruit armed groups to secure the land.”

Virunga National Park is considered a sensitive zone for the government because of potential oil exploration, mining and rebel groups.Compounding the difficult relationship between communities and conservationists is the park’s location. According to researchers, it lies at the epicenter of an ongoing conflict and is affected by cross-border dynamics between Rwanda and Uganda.

Patrick Kipalu, of the NGO Forest People’s Program, believes that the park and government’s exclusion of the Bambuti from conservation efforts is a waste of the immense amount of knowledge indigenous communities have about forest ecosystems. One solution, he said, would be to recruit them as rangers in protecting the park.

The ICCN’s Jean Claude Kyungu said that there are “specific criteria” for recruiting rangers, which the Bambuti do not fulfill, including having a diploma from the state.Norbert Mushenzi, the ICCN’s deputy director of the Virunga National Park, said that the Bambuti have an “intellectual deficiency” and one way for them to benefit from the park is to “sell their cultural products and dances to tourists.”

His view is not unusual; many people, including those directly involved in advocating for the Bambuti, believe that they are inferior to Bantu communities...Doufina Tabu, president of a human rights organization, the Association of Volunteers of Congo (ASVOCO), works with Bambuti communities living outside the park whose land has been stolen….While Tabu advocates for the Bambuti to secure land, he also believes that they must integrate into society, “so they can live like others.”“There are things in their culture that we must change. They can’t continue to stay in the forest like animals,” he said.

A report by Survival International states that forcing “development” on indigenous people has “disastrous” impacts and that the most important factor to their well being is whether or not their land rights are respected.According to Kipalu, the living conditions of the Bambuti are far worse now than when they were in the forest. “Being landless and living on the lands of other people means that they end up being treated almost as slaves,” he said…

Around Kahuzi-Biega National Park, which like Virunga, is classified as a World Heritage Site, the organization Environment, Natural Resources and Development, ERND, together with the Rainforest Foundation Norway, filed a legal complaint in 2010 for the Batwa, another indigenous group, to receive compensation for the loss of their lands inside the park.

The case landed at the Supreme Court in Kinshasa in 2013 where it has remained. In May 2016, the organizations submitted their complaint to the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights, but have yet to receive a response from the Congolese government…Although the DRC voted to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2007, the country’s constitution, 1973 land law and the 2002 Forestry Code make no reference to the rights of indigenous people. The proposed law includes the protection of their traditional medicine and culture, as well as access to land and natural resources. Article 42 specifically states that indigenous people have the right to return to their ancestral lands and be fairly and adequately compensated if they have to relocate.

Excerpts from Zahra Moloo Militarised Conservation Threatens DRC’s Indigenous People – Part 2, IPS, Sept. 15, 2016

Drones and the Anti-Poaching War: Tanzania

The Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) says it is looking to deploy the French-made Delair Tech DT-18 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to carry out surveillance operations over key national reserves to protect critically endangered elephant and rhinos from poachers.

This follows successful test-flights of the DT-18 UAV over the Tarangire National Park last week by private Tanzanian company Bathawk Recon…Bathawk Recon is a private company which was set up to develop and deploy UAV surveillance systems for national parks and game reserves.  Its representative Mike Chambers said the UAV had performed to their satisfaction in both day and night surveillance operations. He said the DT 18 can fly multiple day and night missions thanks to an infrared camera….

TheDT-18 trials were conducted under the auspices of the (Tanzanian) Private Sector Anti Poaching Initiative which seeks to bring the private sector to participate in war against poaching.The UAV systems will be operated by the Wildlife Crime Unit (WCU) of the national parks authority. Tanzania is battling a serious rhino and elephant poaching crisis and the populations of both species have continued to decline in the last few years. The most affected are Selous Game Reserve, Tarangire National Park and Ruaha Game Reserve.  Some 30 elephants are killed every day in Tanzania by poachers.

Excerpts from Oscar Nkala, Tanzania seeking to deploy DT-18 UAVs in anti-poaching war, DefenceWeb.com, Nov. 12, 2104

Conservation: a Military Operation

Mander, founder and chief executive officer of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) – registered in Houston, headquartered in Zimbabwe, and training rangers across Southern Africa [states]…”while we’re trying to win people [over], tens of thousands of animals are being killed every year. We need to do something now, on the ground, to stop the hemorrhaging. Otherwise there won’t be anything left by the time we’ve won all the hearts and minds.”

Mander’s urgency is not misplaced. Poachers in South Africa killed the equivalent of one rhino every eight hours in 2013. They hacked or sawed off their horns and sold them on the world market for as much as $27,000 per pound – more than the price of gold. That makes the average horn on the average rhino worth close to a quarter-million dollars.  Across Africa, the number of elephants has fallen from 1.3 million 40 years ago to fewer than 400,000 today. Each year, the continent loses somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of those that remain. This has prompted organizations such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to predict that Africa will lose a fifth of its elephants in 10 years.  Other groups warn that the African elephant could be extinct within a generation, consigned to picture books, zoos, and eventually fairy tales, like the unicorn.

Mass killings of Africa’s wildlife have happened before, notably in the 1970s and ’80s, a period known as the “ivory holocaust.” In 1989, an international ban on trade in elephant ivory curtailed the supply of illicit animal parts, and populations of the hardest-hit wildlife began creeping up again.  But so did the demand. Asia’s growing middle class increasingly sought out the animal contraband that serves both as ancestral trappings of wealth and a source of traditional medicines.

To supply these expanding markets, poaching has surged again. But this time the sophistication, funding, and malevolence of the poachers and their big-time criminal underwriters have reached new heights. The few who are caught are often found with their own night-vision goggles, sniper rifles, bandoliers of ammunition, and other specialized gear. Big-money backers equip the gunmen with helicopters to land inside the electric fences that guard wildlife. They bribe veterinarians to supply the poachers with powerful animal tranquilizers, which are used to fell the beasts all the more quickly.

In the face of this onslaught, the world’s conservation organizations have significantly increased their efforts despite chronic underfunding. But Mander argues that the conservation “industry,” as he calls it, is “dangerously fragmented” and wasting energy pulling in different directions.”It’s a world wildlife war. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s anything else,” he says back at his main encampment in Zimbabwe. “And the way we’re heading, we’re going to lose.”

Mander is an unlikely poster boy for an environmental conservation movement… At age 19, he joined the Australian Navy and soon transferred into the force’s equivalent of the US Navy SEALs. Six years later, he had become a fully trained Special Forces sniper and specialist diver. But his commission ended, and he shifted into private security and protection of VIPs in Iraq. Twelve tours and three years later, he’d become a wealthy man but decided to quit. …

In Zimbabwe, a wildlife reserve manager with a team of rangers out in the bush decided that hiring Mander was worth a try…Seeing the need to teach rangers about military tactics, and using money from investments he had made during his high-paying days in Iraq, Mander set up the IAPF in 2009. To date, it has trained rangers from 10 separate wilderness areas in Zimbabwe and is expanding into Mozambique. IAPF is also leading efforts from South Africa to create an international standard for wildlife rangers around Africa and beyond….

He teaches intelligence gathering and analysis, as well as overt and covert patrolling. He shows them how to set up observation posts, how to use force properly, and how to deal with battlefield casualties. Mander deploys the gear he used when he was in Iraq, the night scopes and the infrared lights. He’s working on a new gas-driven drone that can spend five hours in the air scouring the landscape for poachers. His rangers go through physical training drills every morning. Their uniforms are new and spotless. “People will try to package it up in a softer way – I don’t know why – but antipoaching is a paramilitary operation,” he says. “Law enforcement should be a ranger’s No. 1 job, but it’s been turned into a minor role.”…

Mander is not the only one militarizing ranger training. In Kenya, the British Army is helping teach similar battlefield techniques. In South Africa, former special forces soldiers are doing the same. Drones are undergoing trials in a dozen wildlife reserves across Africa. The key ingredient in Mander’s approach is a perpetual show of force, which he believes acts as a deterrent…

Critics in the conservation community worry that militarizing the antipoaching movement raises the risk of innocent people getting caught in the crossfire. They think it sidesteps the judicial process at a time when courts are beginning to impose harsher sentences on poachers….

“A lot of people will argue that we need to be focused less on the military approach I’m trying here and more on community work and hearts and minds and sustainable alternatives for communities,” Mander goes on. “Look, I’m all for that. Let’s have people out there working on that. But while they’re at it, I’m going to be here on the ground trying to stop the bleeding and hold on to what we’ve got left before everything’s dead.”

Excerpt, Mike Pflanz, The ivory police, Christian Science Monitor, Mar. 2, 2014

The Hot Pursuit of Poachers

More suspected rhino poachers have been arrested so far this year [in South Africa] than were taken into custody for the whole of last year but rhino poaching continues unabated with 825 carcasses bearing mute testimony to the continued slaughter…This translates into 2.7 rhinos a day, with the Kruger National park still the favoured target of poachers, the majority of whom are Mozambicans. This point was stressed by former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano speaking at the launch of the Joaquim Chissano Foundation Wildlife Preservation Initiative in Maputo earlier this week.  He said 70% of the rhino killed in South Africa can be attributed to Mozambicans. Correspondingly, 68% of suspected poachers arrested in South Africa are from South Africa’s eastern neighbour.

This point was also made earlier this year by retired SA Army general Johan Jooste, now in overall charge of SANParks wildlife anti-poaching operations. He wants a government to government agreement to give Kruger National Park rangers a “hot pursuit” option. This will allow rangers to follow poaching suspects across the border without creating international incidents.The SA National Defence Force (SANDF), via the SA Army and Army Reserves as well as SA Air Force elements, are also active in anti-rhino poaching operations in the world-renowned game reserve. Proof it is the target of choice for poachers comes from Kruger losing by far the largest number of rhinos – 500 – of any area or province.

As of the beginning of this month, 272 arrests of alleged poachers and others suspected of involvement in the horn poaching chain were secured by South African law enforcement agencies. The majority of arrests – 101 – were in Kruger.  The involvement of the wider South African defence sector in counter poaching operations is illustrated by Denel Dynamics deploying a Seeker UAV in Kruger and a Seabird Seeker reconnaissance aircraft compliments of Ivor Ichikowitz’ Paramount Group.

This week saw another side of the national effort to curb and hopefully stop rhino poaching with the first international DNA sampling training workshop… Special focus was given to the increased use of rhinoceros horn DNA sampling to combat wildlife crime.  The officials have been provided with focused training on the identification of rhino horn, horn DNA sampling and wildlife crime scene investigation. Participants were also educated in the utilisation of ICCWC (International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime) tools and services to enhance their wildlife crime investigation capabilities.

Excerpt,  Kim Helfrich, Fighting back against rhino poachers – in the bush and in court, DefenceWeb.com,Nov. 8, 2013