Tag Archives: poachers

Rangers in India found an effective yet questionable way of slamming down poaching — they kill the poachers

Rangers are equipped with guns, and they use them on sight — sometimes without warning.

Image credits: Kangkan.it2004

The Kaziranga National Park in Assam, India, is a remarkable story of conservation success. Despite the increasing black market demand for rhino ivory and despite total rhino numbers dropping significantly throughout the country, Kaziranga is doing great. The reason for that, as a BBC investigation has revealed, is the implementation of extreme measures.

Rangers have been militarized and shoot without hesitation. A BBC reporter recalls a conversation with a ranger:

“The instruction is whenever you see the poachers or hunters, we should start our guns and hunt them,” Avdesh explains without hesitation.

“You shoot them?” I [journalist] ask.

“Yah, yah. Fully ordered to shoot them. Whenever you see the poachers or any people during night-time we are ordered to shoot them.”

Killing poachers

Rhinos desperately need protection — that’s not even a discussion. Like many species of large herbivores, they’ve suffered from massive poaching, being hunted to extinction. The Western Black rhino is already extinct and things are looking bleak for all species of rhinos. To make things even worse, poachers (and the black market bringing the demand) have upped their game. Poachers nowadays use big guns, drones, and they’re ruthless.

Poachers hunt rhinos for their horn, which can get a lot of money on the black market. Image credits: Pixabay.

They come in for the kill, and quite often, threaten humans as well as animals. This is also what the Indian government is saying. They’ve made the rangers almost a military force – wearing khakis, trained, they are allowed to carry guns and even to use drones to spot poachers approaching. Now, nothing’s really unusual up to here. Rangers should be properly equipped to deal with threats, and they should be able to defend themselves. The questionable thing is how often they should be pulling the trigger. At one point, they were killing 2 people every month, which seems like a lot. Add in the fact that they’re almost never held responsible for the killings, and you see how the problem emerges.

So, is this what it comes down to? We have to kill people to protect endangered animals? We all agree poachers must be punished harshly, but is it right for a ranger to be judge, jury, and executioner? The director of the park, Dr Satyendra Singh, says that that question is devoid of meaning because rangers are very disciplined and never shoot on sight.

“First we warn them – who are you? But if they resort to firing we have to kill them. First we try to arrest them, so that we get the information, what are the linkages, who are others in the gang?”

If he’s right, which at the very least, the BBC seems to question, all you would need are some checks and balances to make sure rangers act responsibly and don’t cause unnecessary killings — in other words, that they shoot only when threatened. Which brings us to an even bigger problem…

Collateral damage

There isn’t much in the way of checks and balances.

Like many parts of India, the Kaziranga National Park is densely populated. People have been living in the area for centuries, and sometimes they just wanted inside the park. Sometimes, they’re in the proximity of animals; and sometimes, they get shot.

Basically, the park has a “no one gets in” policy.

“Kill the unwanted,” should be the guiding principle for the guards, the head of the park says. He adds that environmental crimes are worse than murder. “They erode,” he said, “the very root of existence of all civilizations on this earth silently.”

One of the most popular tourist activities at the Kaziranga National Park is the early morning mahout-guided elephant safari. Image credits: SeethaG.

He makes a strong case, especially considering that the park is the main touristic attractions in the area and one of the main income drivers. But while this does send a strong message to poachers, sometimes locals get caught in the crossfire — with disastrous consequences.

BBC tells the case of a local villager (Goanburah), reportedly caring for his cows, who was shot and killed after not realizing he ventured inside the park. They write:

“Goanburah had been looking after the family’s two cows. His father believes they strayed into the park and his son – who had severe learning difficulties – went in to try and find them. It is an easy mistake to make. There are no fences or signs marking the edge of the park, it just merges seamlessly into the surrounding countryside and fields. The park authorities say guards shot Goanburah inside the forest reserve when he did not respond to a warning.”

There’s no chance Goanburah was a poacher, especially as he was seriously disabled.

“He could barely do up his own trousers or his shoes,” his father says, “everyone knew him in the area because he was so disabled.”

A similar instance is told by a seven-year-old survivor. Akash Orang was shot in the leg. After a dozen surgeries, he can barely walk, and will likely never run again in his life.

“I was coming back from the shop. The forest guards were shouting, ‘Rhinoceros! Rhinoceros!'” He pauses. “Then they suddenly shot me.”

Accountability

At this point, this isn’t even about protecting the endangered species. When someone is shot (especially a disabled person and a seven-year-old), there should be an investigation and of course, some accountability. But there isn’t. The park says it’s not responsible for any investigations, and is generally unaware of who the alleged poachers are. Most of the time, the killed people are unidentified — which if you think about it, doesn’t make much sense. Your main interest is to protect the rhinos and identify the poacher network, so wouldn’t you want to know who the poachers are? Especially if people are living at the periphery of the park, you’d want to know who’s doing what.

Some other things also don’t add up with the way the Kaziranga administration is managing things. They want to expand the park and extend the protected area — which again, is a good thing. But due to their “no one gets in” policy, this means they will relocate several villages on the periphery, villagers who claim to be protecting the wildlife and providing environmental services.

Their response to the journalistic investigation was also highly questionable: they simply banned the BBC from the park for 5 years, for failing to submit the documentary to MoEFCC and Ministry of External Affairs for obligatory previewing “in order to remove any deviations, so as to achieve a balanced and accurate exposition of the theme”.

Since the crackdown commenced in 2013, rhino poaching has gone down drastically. You can’t argue with the results, at least so far. But is this a cost worth paying? I’d love to hear your opinions.

Poachers kill three rangers, wound park manager in Congo

Sad news comes from African wildlife parks again: three rangers were killed in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Garamba wildlife park. Two others were wounded, including the park manager.

Brave rangers risk their life every day to protect Africa’s wildlife. Credit: Flickr Enough Project

Just yesterday we were writing that African park rangers risk their life on a day-to-day basis to protect animals in natural parks, and now this tragedy was reported – and this happens. Armed poachers entered the UNESCO world heritage site, opening fire on the park rangers. Dimba Richard, Anigobe Bagare, and Matikuli Tsago were killed in the firefight, while park manager Erik Mararv, 30, and ranger Kenisa Adrobiago are in the hospital, but stable. U.S. forces in the area evacuated the others, but couldn’t save the three rangers.

‘We are devastated by this latest loss. Rangers put their lives on the line each and every day, and are under real siege in Garamba protecting elephants from heavily incentivized and militarized poaching gangs who threaten the very survival of humans and wildlife alike’ African Parks chief executive Peter Fearnhead said in a statement.

Killing for ivory

If you’re wondering why people did this, the answer is simple: ivory. Some 30,000 elephants are killed every year to supply ivory to the black markets in Asia, especially China. Elephant numbers have dropped by 60% in the past decade alone, and if the trend continues, there’s a definite change they will go extinct in the near future.

Unfortunately, protecting these majestic creatures in their natural habitat is extremely different and African countries don’t have a particularly good infrastructure for this. Brave men and women risk their life every day, but sometimes this simply isn’t enough. They are understaffed and underequipped, fighting a growing number of poachers equipped with weapons.

“Rangers put their lives on the line each and every day, and are under real siege in Garamba protecting elephants from heavily incentivized and militarized poaching gangs,” African Parks chief executive Peter Fearnhead said in a statement.

Without massive outside investments, there is no solution in sight.

Poachers use scientific papers to target newly discovered species

When a new species is discovered, it is usually a moment of joy and satisfaction, but recently, announcing such a discovery is done with much discretion and care, for fear of poachers using the announcement to hunt down the new species.

An adult male of a nocturnal gecko species discovered in 2014. Image credits: Frank Glaw.

Academic journals have begun withholding the geographical information of newly discovered species in the light of poachers using peer-reviewed papers to collect and hunt previously unknown species of frogs, lizards and snakes. The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature does not demand researchers to publish this data, but it is generally considered good practice, and many choose to do it for the sake of completion.

Geographical information is very important when announcing a new species, because it contains valuable environmental data, both for conserving the species and for understanding its place in the grand evolutionary tree. But an announcement from the Zootaxa academic journal that two new species of large gecko had been discovered intentionally omitted to mention their location.

“Due to the popularity of this genus as novelty pets, and recurring cases of scientific descriptions driving herpetofauna to near-extinction by commercial collectors, we do not disclose the collecting localities of these restricted-range species in this publication,” the paper said.

Instead, the data was stored in governmental agencies, available only for fellow scientists on explicit request.

“The publishing of data identifying geographic locations poses a threat to the survival of some newly discovered species,” said Mark Auliya, a biologist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research and co-chair International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s monitor lizard specialist group.

“Locality information is used and misused by traders. Printing the location of animals that are rare, protected, endangered, or endemic to specific islands or habitats can easily create a market demand, especially if they are charismatic, colourful or unique in their morphology.”

Even when only vague pieces of information are posted, black market trades can often use their connections and track down the species. Just four months after Zootaxa published information about a new species of gecko, the animal started to appear in Europe as a pet. This follows other distressing cases, like a critically endangered Roti Island snake-necked turtle being depleted after a paper in 1994.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has very strict guidelines prohibiting any publication of geographical data for an endangered species (especially those with a high risk of pet trade), but most journals don’t enforce these guidelines. Ariadne Angulo, the co-chair of the IUCN’s amphibian specialist group said that they are trying to push the implementation of these guidelines.

“It’s an ethical conundrum,” she said. “Many scientists are caught in the dilemma that: here we are with a species no one knows – its not even considered a species – they describe it, provide locality information, it makes it into the primary data and a few months later that species is found on the market.”

In the past 10 years, Europe alone has imported over 20 million reptiles, making this issue a very pressing one.