The nature of ‘militarization’ (2)

‘Shoot-to-kill’ is part of a general criticism of ‘militarization’ in wildlife protection terms that the use of force is synonymous with coercion and violence, and also that ‘militarized’ counter-poaching can be prioritized to the detriment of community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) as well as creating a ‘war’ narrative: the implication here is that force is being applied within a militaristic dynamic of ‘weaponizing’ counter-poaching that works hand in hand with social exclusion.

From these various perspectives a ‘militarization matrix’ emerges that factors in wildlife conservation with land ownership and socio-economic issues as well as intangible cultural and historical elements; alongside these are the market forces that have turned a handful of high value species into ‘commodities’ driven either by their importance to tourism, body parts or both: here it is important to remember that a sizeable proportion of the wildlife in prime safari fee-paying South Africa and Kenya live on private land, in effect making the struggle between poachers and land-owners at heart a ‘commodity conflict’.

These landowners are Africa’s ‘landed gentry’ who in the past relied on agriculture, especially cattle ranching, as the main revenue stream; however, with globalised competition for their products and climate change eroding the soil, income streams have been increasingly repositioned to focus on tourism based on the luxury safari ‘experience’. For this ‘militarization’ acts not only as protection against poachers but just as importantly, against rising levels of crime: robbery in a safari camp is not only bad for business but it also inevitably carries a generalised message of ineffective policing and insecurity.

‘Militarization’ is a ‘hard power’ strategy to protect these valuable commodities but it is expensive; this means in general wildlife protection terms that the greater the price-tag on an animal then the more protection it is likely to receive: for example, $330million was earmarked for the Global Tiger Initiative following a summit in St Petersburg hosted by Vladimir Putin in 2010 and the rhino is a key player in the safari tourist industry of sub Sahara Africa; at the other end of the scale, the Brazilian Three-Toed Sloth which lives in the forests of eastern Brazil, is all but ignored as its numbers and habitat disappears, with various species such as the pangolin and turtle in the mid-range of getting some protection but certainly not enough.

In a non-scientific definitional sense there is a difference between poaching and trafficking, even though both form a distinct part of a distributive chain and rely on stealth and evasion as opposed to confrontation (unless under attack). Trafficking is the loose generic term for the illegal transportation and distribution of wildlife, while poaching refers to the action of taking wildlife that is under the custodianship either of state bodies or private ownership. In the case of creatures from the Earth’s oceans, legally regarded as ‘mare nostrum’ (everyone’s sea) – apart from territorial waters – protection is in theory provided by United Nations World Charter for Nature and forms the legal justifications for the actions of Sea Shepherd.

The assessment of ‘militarization’ and ‘securitisation’ of the illegal wildlife trade is sometimes referred to as a ‘war’ on behalf of wildlife; here, Nick Steele, a legendary former South African conservationist and pioneer of the modern ‘conservancy’ model of farms/ranches that combine husbandry of wildlife and cattle, developed the ‘Farm Patrol Plan’ during Apartheid, in which he persuaded the (white) ranchers to join forces in para-military style to protect their farms from poaching and political turmoil, thereby entwining ‘militarized’ conservation with broader national security, which is echoed in today’s rhino and ivory ‘wars’ in South Africa and Kenya respectively.

Today, conflict and crime are increasingly drawing in wildlife conservation as poachers and traffickers exploit ‘ungoverned spaces’, especially in Africa: for example, the heavy infiltration of Kenya’s numerous ‘badlands’ border areas has led to a surge of ‘weaponisation’ in the country’s wildlife protection, a trend replicated in South Africa. Additionally, these conflicts have been fuelled by the circulation of vast numbers of small arms in Africa that have been part of the reason why US Africom has stealthily assembled a chain of small and low-visibility ‘lily-pad’ bases to prosecute a ‘shadow’ war and the British Army to use Kenyan ‘conservancies’ for training purposes.   Jasper Humphreys

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