British soldiers have deployed to West Africa to provide further support to the Gabon National Parks Agency in their fight against elephant poachers.
The British Army training team will help step up anti-poaching training with local park rangers and trackers, which includes sharing operational experience, surveillance and analysis, and the collection and use of criminal intelligence to support successful prosecution of the gangs responsible for the slaughters, the UK Ministry of Defence said.
The 14-strong team, led by Northern Ireland based 2 RIFLES, and supported by specialist staff – including an experienced tracker from the Royal Gurkha Rifles – will train around 60 men and women who will be or are already involved in anti-poaching patrols.
During the six-week deployment UK personnel will operate in the Minkebe region, a large area of Gabon where there are few roads and challenging rainy season conditions.
Minister for Reserves Julian Brazier said: “Our Armed Forces are among the best in the world and this important training demonstrates Britain’s commitment to Defence engagement and tackling threats. We have put our full support behind the Gabonese government in the battle against the scourge of ivory poaching.”
UK personnel are training EcoGuards (ANPN Park Rangers) and Gendarmes. The Gendarmes are part of the Parks Agency (ANPN) structure, which runs patrols in the most heavily poached areas. Patrols are supported by a small number of soldiers, and local trackers.
The objective is not to use military training, but instead impart military skills and techniques to the ANPN.
This includes navigation skills, patrolling techniques and planning, evidence gathering, first aid, injury prevention in the jungle, weapon handling/safety, fitness and teamwork, live firing, ambush drills and interdiction, and lessons on Gabonese law and Rules of Engagement.
Lt Colonel Neil Bellamy, Commanding Officer of 2 RIFLES said: “The 2 RIFLES team has worked hard to prepare for their deployment to Gabon and is relishing the opportunity to work in the rainforests of Central Africa alongside Gabonese Park Rangers. Poachers are operating in formed criminal gangs of 30-50 personnel and the illegal trading of animal parts is one of many illicit activities sponsored by cross border organised criminal groups. 2 RIFLES’ deployment to Gabon is an important part of the UK Government’s plan to address this threat.”
Training is delivered alongside a US military team, and in partnership with the UK Department of Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Gabonese Government, and charity the Prince Charles Trust.
This is the second tranche of training, after UK personnel delivered the initial instalment in August.
Gabon faces a serious poaching problem, as ivory traffickers target the indigenous Woodland Elephants, threatening their extinction. Armed poachers have not only targeted the endangered elephants, but also local villages and park rangers.