Eyes in the sky
 

Africa's Fight on Rhino, Elephant Poachers Aided

November 2013

By JASON STRAZIUSO and CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA Associated Press

Africa is getting tougher in its fight against poaching. New laws with stiff penalties, more military training for rangers and new technology like drones with thermal cameras are all helping to protect rhinos and elephants. A new law in Kenya that increases penalties for killing tourist-attracting safari animals is already bearing fruit.

A Chinese man accused of trying to smuggle ivory in a suitcase was arraigned in a Nairobi court this week. Under the law that came into effect on Jan. 10 and that the Kenya Wildlife Service had spent years been lobbying for, the man could face up to life in prison and a $230,000 fine. In the past, such poachers and smugglers could walk out of court with a fine of less than $1,000.



"They have to think twice now," Paul Mbugua, the spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service, said of poachers and the new law. "You just try your luck on the poaching, but the moment we catch up to you, you are done."

Kenya's new law is being paired with increased training and deployment of advanced equipment.

Kenya's Ol Pejeta Conservancy will deploy drones later this year to help protect rhinos. Parks in Tanzania and South Africa are also increasing their use of surveillance drones. In South Africa's massive Kruger Park, where hundreds of rhinos are killed each year, rangers are hunting for poachers using a former military helicopter and night-vision equipment provided by a private company. During a three-day training session last month on the slopes of Mount Kenya, a team of Kenyan wildlife agents crouched behind a veil of green bush as they waited for their target. When two armed "poachers" walked by, the 12-man Kenyan squad opened fire, downing the two role-playing animal killers. Standing nearby was a team of British paratroopers leading the training.

Col. Mark Christie, the commander of the British base that lies on the northwest side of Mount Kenya, a unit known as the British Army Training Unit Kenya, said the Kenyan wildlife officers used tactics similar to British troops, but noted the Kenyans maneuver better in the wild than his own troops.

During the exercise, about a dozen rangers from the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Forest Service crept through the woods, using hand signals to move as silently as possible. A mountain river bubbled in the background as the team set up an ambush and waited for the poachers to pass by. Using blank rounds, the rangers unleashed 30 seconds of gunfire on the two. In this deadly game in which both sides are armed, the rangers shoot to kill.

 

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