Debrief: Africa Anti-Poaching

Jack Carr in Africa

I spent last week volunteering in the Northern Cape of South Africa training up an anti-poaching unit focused on protecting rhinos on a private game reserve in the Kalahari Desert.  My primary objective was to train the team in weapons handling, small unit tactics, and vehicle interdiction and provide recommendations for future training, equipment and technologies to help improve their effectiveness.  The secondary objective was to research the poaching problem which I write about in the upcoming thriller True Believer.  While on the ground, I learned about the art of man-tracking from the best in the world; a skill that will be featured prominently in my third novel.

Team Debrief

I was honored to be on the firing line with veterans of Africa’s contentious Bush Wars that tore across southern Africa from the late 60s to mid-90s, learning from men with combat experience in Namibia (then South West Africa), Angola, Zambia, Rhodesia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique in units like Koevoet (the special operations component of the South African Police modeled after the famed Selous Scouts), 32 Battalion, 1 Recce and 5 Recce.  Some even went to work in Iraq and Afghanistan as private military contractors after 9/11. They are now putting their skills to use protecting some of the last rhinos on earth.

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Depending on the source, there have been as many as 6000 rhinos killed in Africa since 2008.  The vast majority (85%) have been killed in South Africa which is home to close to 80% of the total rhinos in all of Africa, with a population estimated at approximately 30,000.  Teams of poachers infiltrate from Mozambique and Zimbabwe using local human intelligence networks and safe houses in South Africa with financing from Asia.  Endemic corruption at all levels of government, low socio-economic conditions and high demand in Asia creates the fuel for this multi-billion dollar illicit industry which generates more money than the illegal trafficking of small arms, gold, diamonds, or oil.  With rhino horn worth more than cocaine on the black market, I fear the war to stem its trade will suffer the same fate as the War on Drugs.

Rhino in the wild

The future of the rhino in Africa is bleak.  If current trends endure and demand in Asia continues to go unabated, the next generation will know the rhino as an animal that reached extinction on our watch.  Steps can be taken to increase security at the tactical level on private reserves which are doing a more effective job protecting rhinos from poaching syndicates than the South African government.  These private entities, along with pressure on and education in Asia, specifically China, Vietnam and Thailand, using both political pressure from governments and social pressure from non-governmental organizations are vital components of a full spectrum approach. This must also include foundations to fund the tactical level training of anti-poaching units that are quite literally the front line forces in this battle.  Ideally, these programs would be coupled with transnational counter-poaching efforts focused on disrupting and dismantling the rhino poaching syndicates using human and technical means to target, and local/federal law enforcement units to find-fix-finish illicit networks upstream of the poachers on the ground.  Teams could then exploit-analyze-disseminate that intelligence and information to a broader network of governments committed to saving the rhino.
Look for insights from time spent in Mozambique back in 2016 along with this past week on the ground in the Kalahari on the pages of my next novels, and, as always, enjoy the ride!


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