US involvement in counter poaching operations possible

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The ongoing slaughter of rhinos in South Africa to feed an apparently insatiable appetite for horn in certain Far Eastern countries has attracted the attention of the White House.

A day before a roundtable on counter-poaching and the link between poaching and transnational and trans-regional trafficking hosted by the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS) in Washington, United States President Barack Obama announced the members of an advisory council to his Task Force on wildlife Trafficking.

This follows a July Executive Order in which Obama said: “Poaching generates billions of dollars in illicit revenue each year contributing to the illegal economy, fuelling instability and undermining security”.

The Order said that “in appropriate cases the US shall seek to assist those governments in anti-wildlife trafficking activities” and “in concert with the international community and partner organisations the US shall seek to combat wildlife trafficking” while also seeking to “reduce the demand for illegally traded wildlife, at home and abroad”.

SA Army Reserve Force Colonel Marius Roos, managing director of Pathfinder Corporation, a private security company working on counter-poaching efforts, and Scott Williams, a former US military officer now director of the non-profit Reserve Protection Agency, were guests at the ACSS discussion.

They discussed, in depth and detail, the magnitude of the rhino poaching problem in South Africa and the difficulties in finding a solution to it.

The discussion took place this week at the same time as the South African anti-rhino poaching initiative Stop Rhino Poaching, under the leadership of Elise Daffue, announced that 727 rhinos have been killed so far this year by poachers. This is 39 more than were killed in 2012.

The Kruger National Park bears the brunt of rhino poaching activities and more than half the rhino killed nationally fall to poachers’ high-powered hunting rifles in the park.

Kruger measures in excess of 20 000 square kilometres and is home to 65% of the world’s rhino population. The ACSS discussion heard that the high concentration of rhinos in this single area, which borders Mozambique, and was under-staffed in terms of rangers, contributed to making surveillance and tracking “difficult”.
“With poachers now using more sophisticated weapons, it is becoming even more difficult for rangers to protect the animals,” the discussion was told.

Although there are technologies for tracking and communication that, if used, would help rangers halt the killing of rhinos, Roos and Williams said they found it is of greater significance to tackle the causes of the issue rather than the symptoms. The pair maintained that it is most important to create and maintain the necessary framework to current poaching and prevent poaching in future.

In this regard they have worked with the US Embassy in Pretoria, as well as several non-government organisations, on sharing information and strategies as well as demonstrating that effective plans have been made to deal with rhino poaching.