Working in partnership with a transitional government can be tricky, while support for combating trafficking and arms proliferation is brittle. In what has been dubbed “the most neglected crisis in the world,” * CAR has gone from bad to worse where even in a remote location like Bayanga a war economy has set in. Although the project is multidimensional, with a primate habituation, tourism and development program, enforcing wildlife law is our core business and is akin to disallowing the coping mechanisms that are a fact of life.
Working in counter-poaching in CAR is tantamount to conducting paramilitary operations, for which one needs to tread softly with a wary government when running these sorts of outfits. Obtaining permission to train with former Special Forces operators, having the equipment, ammunition, gear and jurisdiction needed becomes political.
The threat of combat is real, where villagers are farmers by day, poachers by night, and facilitate diamond smuggling in between. They receive occasional orders for goods that can be easily exfiltrated through porous borders and vast lawless zones. Larger more organized groups infiltrating through Chad and Sudan are also a threat.
So, using the population-centric mindset of counter-insurgency for counter-poaching makes sense and includes varied tactics, favoring intelligence-driven operations and the fostering of local co-operation through multi-faceted programs. It provides a useful scope to confront issues of conflict and conservation, and international trafficking in a post-conflict setting.
Forest elephants have suffered from higher poaching rates than their savannah cousins. This is for two reasons in my opinion: because their ivory is denser and therefore more profitable pound-for-pound; because it is easier to get away with, unless you are informed about, stumble onto or smell an elephant carcass, no one will know. This impenetrable jungle is an exceptionally difficult environment to work in: visibility rarely exceeds 5-15 meters, the elements strain men and gear, and wildlife are just as much a threat than poachers – all of which hinder our tactical impact despite sound strategies.
There are currently no direct threats to the project, but I still keep a ‘grab-bag’ – satellite -phone, water purification tablets, batteries, and basic survival gear – by my bed and I am authorized to carry a firearm, though I have chosen not to. We get situation reports from regional offices and UN sources on security that varies from week-to-week. We keep a boat ready to depart for the Cameroonian border, 15 minutes away. Despite this, I had no compunction with coming to CAR to hone this challenging but worthy task, which can contribute to peace and ecological preservation.
DSPA is a case in point for conservation projects with the potential to be meaningful post-conflict recovery tools, enhancing human security, promoting good governance and natural resource management, as well as mitigating the resources that go to exacerbate the crisis. It has also proven that an ongoing field presence prevents ecological disasters and thus fuels the debate in favor for conservation in conflict zones. Stephane Crayne, WWF Security Adviser, Dzanga Sangha Protected Areas (DSPA), MA Department of War Studies (2014).