Guns and gnus

The use of force in the context of wildlife protection presents a unique strategic challenge in that one side of the conflict – wildlife – is defenceless against its human opponent, yet has to rely on the altruism of other humans for its protection.

‘Soft’ power approaches towards animal conservation predominate, notably in the form of international covenants on the protection of endangered species. Examples of ‘hard’ power protection are rare and usually spring from ancillary imperatives such as the need to protect species for the sake of tourism.

Thus the forceful struggle to protect animal life is left to the more radical end of the conservation spectrum, such as the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd, whose passive–aggressive confrontations with Japanese whalers gain large audiences for the Whale Wars series on Animal Planet TV. Sea Shepherd’s operations epitomize both the increasing militarization of conservation activities and the growing public support for such actions.

Direct action of this kind gains widespread backing in part, as Sea Shepherd’s leader Paul Watson emphasizes, because his organization’s actions are intended to enforce international maritime law under the United Nations World Charter for Nature.

The example of Sea Shepherd illustrates an evolving, and intriguing, development in international affairs, which is the capacity for self-generating resistance beyond the state in support of transnational laws and norms.

The protection of animals requires an articulation of how threats to wildlife can be said to possess a distinctive identity within the web of international politics. Here it is possible to point in particular to the huge commercial incentives that revolve around ‘attacking’ and exploiting the natural resource base. In the worst instances, criminal enterprises operating beyond the law lead the way in the destruction of habitats and the specific targeting of sensitive wildlife in ways that have serious security implications to which responding with force is one logical option.

In the past, the notion of protecting species with force has been an issue where the ‘safety-catch’ has for the most part been left on. In recent years, however, there is growing evidence of a willingness to take it off.

Wildlife charities now use their resources to train and equip game park rangers in several African countries to counter the sharp growth in poaching arising from the activities of increasingly sophisticated and violent criminal gangs.

This support has seen the provision of weapons, ammunition, barracks, vehicles and even light aircraft by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) for the Kenyan Wildlife Service, while the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has hired former British Army Special Air Service veterans to train game wardens in catching elephant poachers in the Gashaka National Park, Nigeria. Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre

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