USAID announced a global case study compilation to collect lessons on an urgent global conservation challenge: how to build capacity for enforcement and prosecution to combat wildlife crime. They want to know what has worked, what hasn’t, and everything in between.
Here is a frank and a sensible response by Ron Thomson of the TGA, to the “BIG STICK” approach.
I am dismayed at the emphasis you place on “enforcement” in this appeal. Forcing people to do anything does not provide lasting solutions.
I am a 78 year old ex-game warden with 58 years of experience in managing African national parks and Africa’s wildlife. And I have done it all. With respect to anti-poaching work for over 30 years (in the field): I have ruthlessly pursued and captured poachers; my colleagues have shot and killed poachers; I have been involved at every level – from finding poachers tracks; following them; finding the culprits; capturing and arresting them; searching their persons; locating their homes where searches were conducted; preparing court dockets; labelling exhibits; presenting the arrested poachers to the police; giving evidence in a court of law; and everything else that goes with the rigmarole of stopping poaching. And none of it ever stopped the poaching. Why? Not because the sentences were NOT a deterrent but because the root causes of poaching – POVERTY and UNEMPLOYMENT – were ignored. Success in stopping poaching, therefore, depends upon you removing these two factors from the equation. Nothing else will stop the poaching!
You have gone to so much trouble to publish this appeal it must be because you are concerned that poaching continues – despite all the international efforts put into trying to stop poaching through organisations like CITES – a now sad and dysfunctional organisation that is totally controlled by its accredited animal rightist NGOs. The animal rightists will NEVER stop poaching because they – with doctrinaire intensity – always oppose every constructive and workable solution that is proposed – solutions that COULD stop poaching.
May I suggest that the reason why poaching has not been stopped is because YOU (and CITES) – and people and organisations like you and CITES – have gone about trying to solve this problem the wrong way.
The “BIG STICK” approach does not work. If you want to stop poaching may I suggest that you try offering “THE CARROT” instead! Please listen to this dyed-in-the-wool old-time game warden!!!! I talk from long long experience in this field.
The only long term solution to Africa’s wildlife poaching problem is to integrate the “needs” of the poacher communities (The rural villages that surround Africa’s national parks) (and their “needs” are the alleviation of poverty and unemployment) with the “needs” of the wild animals that live in and around the national parks. And the “needs” of the wildlife is to be given an opportunity to survive forever. ONLY when the rural people of Africa can legally earn MORE money from the controlled and sustainable “harvest” of “their” wildlife, than they can from illegally poaching the very same animals, will they stop the poaching. That ideal makes complete sense! If the rural people (the poacher communities) already “own” the animals (in the sense they have “emotional ownership” of the animals), and if they already gain maximum legal benefits from them, why would they want to poach them? Only THEN will they start to look upon these animals are “their” animals; and the national park as being “their” national park. This is a long story which I cannot expand upon here and now – but if you want more information on this theme I can supply it in an already well-prepared and polished document (which I call “Africa’s Wildlife Initiative Programme – AWIP). AWIP is a new generation version of Zimbabwe’s CAMPFIRE programme – but much bigger and better.
Finally, if you really want to stop poaching may I suggest that you start to understand that MOST of the really big poaching events in Africa have been carried out under the aegis of the countries’ political elites (from 1970 until today). This is true in the case of Kenya; Tanzania; Mozambique; Zimbabwe; and Zambia. And start your campaign by having a look at the white rhino poaching that is going on in South Africa’s Kruger National Park today – where (I have it on reliable information) the poachers (the men who pull the triggers) have immunity from arrest in Mozambique from leading members of the Mozambican administration. And there are many many signs that suggest South Africa needs a thorough examination – in this regard – too. The only African country that appears to be “squeaky clean” is Namibia. Forget about the so-called Mafia. In most countries in Africa, the so-called mafia have been purposefully positioned (by the political elite) as “STRAWMEN” in this conundrum The “mafia” buy some of the the contraband – YES – but it is senior elements of the political elite who have been orchestrating the actual poaching events.
To stop poaching in Africa, therefore, requires a complete turn around in the world’s approach to this vexing problem. May I suggest, therefore, that USAID leave its American gunboat behind – that it stops “thinking” ENFORCEMENT – and that it starts getting involved in solving this problem in a manner that has some chance of success.
“BIG STICKS” and “coercive politics” will NOT succeed in solving Africa’s wildlife poaching problems!