One recent Friday afternoon volleys of shots reverberated through the hot Miombo woodlands of the vast Kafue National Park (KNP) in Zambia but instead of indicating the presence of poachers this time the gunfire represented hope.
The shots were fired by 36 members of the Zambian Wildlife Authority’s (ZAWA) Special Anti-Poaching Unit (SAPU) and the Investigations and Intelligence Unit (IIU) who were undertaking firearms drill as part of an innovative training programme funded by IFAW and the Netherlands based Van Tienhoven Foundation for International Nature Protection.
The programme is designed to help teach officers, both men and women, how to minimise the risks to themselves when making arrests and includes handgun skills, property entry drills, the importance of considering human rights during arrests and other aspects of law enforcement.
Co-ordinated by Zambia’s Game Rangers International (GRI), the programme, “Saving Endangered African Wildlife by Reducing Illegal Wildlife Trafficking”, was run over seven days at the Chunga Training School some 290 kilometres west of the capital city of Lusaka.
The officers, some dressed in brown and green camouflage uniforms and others, mostly members of the IIU, in civilian clothes, crowded into a hot cramped classroom at Chunga each day to take notes and ask questions before embarking on practical exercises in the school’s grounds and a nearby quarry.
Training was provided by Clive Dickinson a highly trained firearms expert who recently retired from the London Metropolitan Police’s elite CO19 unit. He was assisted by Darrel Cox, a Lusaka based firearms instructor.
Each day while the officers, their knees squeezed under desks designed for schoolchildren, pored over their notes a troop of baboons foraged in the school grounds and a resident herd of skittish impala antelope occasionally bounded away from imagined threats.
Unlike the impala, the threats facing the officers in the course of the duties are not imagined, they are real and serious.
Zambia’s national parks, including Kafue, have been heavily exploited for the illicit bush-meat and ivory trade and many poachers are quick to use firearms, knives and even spears to evade arrest.
Sport Beattie, the CEO and founder of GRI, says that the training is designed to complement ZAWA’s work and that the skills learnt by officers during this programme will assist significantly in the fight against poaching.
“In the past 15 months that we have been operating with Zawa’s SAPU, with support from IFAW and other donors, we have managed to achieve a number of successes,” Beattie said sitting in the shade of a large tree while taking a break from lectures.
“We have apprehended 86 poachers , successfully convicted 71 of those, recovered 21 lengths of ivory, recovered 19 weapons of various calibres from homemade shotguns and blunderbusses to AK47s and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and confiscated more than 3,500 kilogrammes of bush meat”.
“This week’s training will help build on these successes,” Beattie says adding that training dovetails perfectly with GRI’s vision of taking a holistic view of conservation in which animal rescue and rehabilitation is taken into account alongside education and training, scientific research and law enforcement.
As part of the holistic approach GRI runs The Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP) which provides sanctuary for defenseless abandoned elephant calves – often left orphaned due to poaching or human conflict. Care for these elephants begins at the Lilayi Elephant Nursery at GRI’s HQ, before they are moved to the EOP Kafue Release Facility where they join other older orphaned elephants. IFAW, together with the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and others, are a proud supporter of the EOP.
For more information on IFAW efforts to stop the illegal wildlife trade, visit the IFAW campaign page.
Article source: IFAW