The increased militarization of the means and response to poaching in the recent past is contrasted by several grassroots initiatives worth examining. Indeed, technology previously hard to obtain is now accessible and making its way as a key tool from wildlife research to enforcement of anti-poaching.
In the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, an interesting precedent is being set. The plan is to introduce small, over the counter, low technology means, such as drones, to monitor elephant populations and track poachers thanks to night- vision and infra-red cameras.
The use of armed drones has proven a ‘force multiplier’ in military campaigns. The testing of these techniques has revealed that these drones can also be armed with capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili, much abhorred by elephants. Not only do these drones offer a tangible Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platform, but they can also provide a means of steering elephants from conflict zones, while only being a minor nuisance to them.
Camera-traps, long used to monitor wildlife, are moving to the forefront of surveillance thanks to improved technological measures. In the same way that drones don’t need training or wages, cameras can operate remotely and in any environment. In various parts of the world they have lead to the rediscovery of previously thought extinct species, as well as helped identify poaching activities.
The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is currently working on connecting these preventive means to ‘smart-phone’ technology via satellite, allowing anti-poaching intelligence gathering to be ‘crowd-sourced’. This opening is yet another step in building awareness and more importantly, it provides an effective tool for rangers to concentrate their often-limited resources in real time in real hot spots.
Further contemporary non-lethal military applications, stemming from counterinsurgency (COIN) strategies, learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, can also provide a source for intervention. The importance of incorporating local populations into peace-building operations is evident when dealing with insurgencies or poaching. Indeed, a series of what we will label counter-measures, incorporating community involvement in the detection and deterrence of poachers, alongside meaningful development revolving around tourism – amounting to over 1 billion dollars annually – can empower local members to use elephants and rhinoceros as a sustainable means of income, as opposed to a commodity, while preserving the biodiversity. Here the element of “hearts and minds” of COIN operations can be used in favour of wildlife protection, without the heavy tactical foot-print typical of these strategies.
At one end of the spectrum we have a direct military escalation stemming from rebel and terror groups, conjunct with US and UK involvement. Indeed, given the ‘arms race’ that we have witnessed in poaching activities, a proportional response is needed. Yet, at the other end of this spectrum, the protection of community welfare and its inclusion is vital to the long-term success of such a campaign.
Human-elephant conflict is not novel, but in this instance we are witnessing more a human-to-human conflict around elephants. Insofar that ivory is a natural resource – non-existence dependent – but also illegal and based on a specific demand, the solution is quite simple when contrasted with other lootable natural resources. If demand is cut, we can predict a sharp reduction in poaching, which otherwise affect the balance of regional biodiversities, creating further tensions. This needs the opening of a new front, far from the fields of the African savannah and into the economics and ethics of emerging countries bringing billions of middle class consumers to the marketing of precious – albeit useless – natural resources. Stephane Crayne, student MA War Studies, King’s College.