The author conducting a training in the field.A few weeks ago, I was thrilled to hear that IFAW’s tenBoma team embedded with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) developed actionable intelligence revealing a planned poaching operation targeting rhinos. The intelligence gathered drove a KWS offensive operation stopping the poachers at their hiding site very close to the rhino.  The rhinos were saved.

 In the US military, the phrase “getting left of boom” was coined to describe how we rapidly process indicators of a potential insurgent attack and penetrate the broader network to stop the planned  attack before it happens. In the context of countering wildlife crime, we call this “getting left of kill” referring to those patterns of activity “upstream” of poaching  which are monitored to predict locations where animals are vulnerable to poaching activity. Once revealed, those locations can be targeted for enforcement action to stop the poaching operation before it happens; this is the very concept that led to KWS’s success and saved the rhino from being poached.

While other counter-poaching programs highlight successes in terms of the number of arrests they make or the amount of ivory or rhino horn that is seized, our goal is stop criminals before they kill, and also to gather valuable information from these arrests and operations to establish links between suspects arrested on scene and others supporting them logistically, financially, or operationally. This continuous process helps to illuminate the most vulnerable connections within the network – those nodes that, if neutralized, have the greatest impact on overall crime levels and effectively dismantle the criminal network.

So I am equally proud of the evidence gathered by this integrated tenBoma/KWS team that is informing counter-poaching and counter trafficking efforts in the region.

READ: TENBOMA FIELD REPORT: New gear to help prosecutions

While this particular enforcement operation at first seems like the work of a very small team, its success was dependent on a powerful implementation of our tenBoma project   Nairobi Headquarters and Voi outposts.

For the last eight months, we’ve been refining and securing the tenBoma model in Tsavo East and Nairobi headquarters.  We’ve mentored and equipped more than two dozen intelligence and investigation officers.  And in that process, we’ve learned lessons, and built relationships based on trust, mutual respect and mutual buy-in for the project and its goals.

We’ve seen KWS enforcement capacity improve considerably under the tenBoma “talent-tech-tradecraft” umbrella which has resulted in better information gathering and improved operations targeting mid-level nodes within poaching networks. Along the way, we’ve optimized technical enablers and iteratively tailored our tech packages in support of field operations.

The “talent” supporting tenBoma is achieved through embedded mentors that work with KWS every day to understand challenges like cellular network coverage and mobility constraints, just getting around the rugged terrain, lack of fuel and maintenance support. All these vulnerabilities  which in the past have been exploited by poachers to strike in areas where they know KWS is limited in its ability to “shoot, move, or communicate.” That no longer occurs in tenBoma covered areas.

Our achievements in Tsavo East mean we are now ready to expand to a new KWS site.

Our vision is to protect elephants and other wildlife within the vast area of the Tsavo Conservation  Area.  That includes Tsavo East, Tsavo West and Chyulu protected areas and all the connecting lands used by wildlife. In total, this is some 43,000 km2, an area larger than Israel or New Jersey State in USA.

In the short-term, we must gear up for a seasonal spike in poaching incidents that we anticipate based on historical elephant mortality data and corresponding with short rains in the Tsavos.

Last year, during the traditional high poaching season, there were no elephants illegally killed in vulnerable areas targeted by tenBoma for increased enforcement based on past poaching trends.  We plan to achieve the same “0 poaching incidents” records during the upcoming season.  Stay tuned for follow-up.

–TS

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Article source: IFAW

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