Does militarisation within conservation work?
Clausewitz’s famous dictum of war being an extension of politics by other means applies equally to the ‘militarization’ of counter-poaching.
Firstly, the increasing privatisation of counter-poaching inevitably means there is a loosening of controls by state authorities; this in turn sees the criminal model being gradually superseded by the counter-insurgency model, with its looser legal restraints.
Secondly, from the trend of wildlife conservation aligning itself with broader national and international security issues in the name of ‘securitization’ a dangerous unintended consequence could be to legitimize wildlife officers as ‘targets’ in the eyes of subversive elements.
Thirdly, while ‘shoot-to-kill’ sends an unambiguous message it also runs the risk of creating the perception that authorities care more about wildlife than humans. Connected to that, in a classic analysis of ‘social bandits’, the historian, Eric Hobsbawm, said that poachers were often seen as ‘men to be admired, helped and supported’. He pointed to the case of Mathias Klostermayr, an eighteenth-century ‘social bandit’ in Bavaria who terrorized hunters, game-keepers and anyone associated with game; for Hobsbawm, while Klostermayr’s poaching was ‘an activity peasants always regarded as legitimate, he was admired and helped’.
Fourthly, given the relative impotence of organisations tasked with halting IWT, in reality it is only an over-arching, universal body with real power that effect can changes, and that is the United Nations. Here, the Central African Republic (CAR) can – for once – provide a positive example: in March and June of 2015, troops of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) were used as partners by WWF-Dzanga Sangha to perform anti-poaching operations, contributing to patrols, seizures and arrests. Taking this further, bodies including the International Crisis Group have called on the UN, specialised organisations, regional states and the CAR government to create a cell within MINUSCA to fight against diamonds, gold, ivory trafficking – and ‘militarised’ poaching. Jasper Humphreys