MEDIA STATEMENT: THE USE OF MILITARY AND SECURITY PERSONNEL AND TACTICS IN THE TRAINING OF AFRICAS RANGERS
There has been a surge in rhino and elephant poaching across Africa in recent years as a result of well organised poaching syndicates targeting high value species for their own economic gains. Threat levels have thus escalated and Africa's rangers are involved in armed skirmishes on a daily basis. There is a dire need for increased support of Africa's rangers to ensure they can carry out their work to continue to protect our continent's wild animals and their iconic habitats.
Leading counter-poaching operations and maintaining the territorial integrity of protected areas has always been part and parcel of a ranger's responsibilities. It is not something new. Military personnel, military veterans and security contractors from beyond Africa's borders are becoming increasingly involved in ranger training across our continent. Intentions in some instances may be noble but there are mounting concerns that need to be noted by the ranger community in Africa.
Areas of concern:
1. Lack of co-ordination amongst role-players - Foreign military personnel, military veterans and security contractors are currently operating in Africa and training rangers. This is often not done in consultation with those already based on the ground who are aware of the context, needs and complexities of the areas of operation. Groups are operating in isolation to each other leading to a fragmented approach.
2. Lack of understanding of the operating environment - Foreign military personnel, military veterans and security contractors generally have little or no understanding of the African bush and thus the environment in which rangers operate. Conducting anti-poaching operations is a specialist skill set that relies first and foremost on sound knowledge and understanding of the bush and the ability to interpret its signs. Being comfortable working in areas with dangerous game under harsh conditions is the foundation of being a good ranger. This is not something that will be learnt from those from beyond Africa's borders but rather from experienced African rangers themselves. Rangers also need to operate with ecological sensitivity in mind. This is a foreign concept to many soldiers and security contractors.
3. Lack of understanding of the legal framework that applies to rangers - Foreign military personnel, military veterans and security contractors do not always understand and respect the 'use of force' principles, rules of engagement and legal frameworks that are applicable to rangers in the countries in which they are training. These differ vastly to those that soldiers operate under during war conditions. In certain areas rangers are being trained in military tactics such as 'long range sniper training' that if used in the field against poachers would immediately lead to the rangers arrest in these countries. Rangers must always operate with an appreciation of basic human rights when dealing with suspects.
4. Lack of appreciation of the political, cultural and social environment – There are political, cultural and social considerations to take into account when dealing with communities surrounding protected areas and when working with rangers who often come from these areas. A heavy-handed approach can lead to a breakdown in trust that may have taken years to foster. Community support is vital if protected areas wish to be sustainable. This is often not appreciated and understood by foreign operatives. Likewise, rangers themselves must be treated with respect; they are professionals in their own right and they do not always respond to the military approach. Military personnel need to be sensitive to this when dealing with rangers.
5. Lack of suitable vetting of military and security operatives training rangers - There is little or no vetting of skills, experience and integrity of military veterans or security operatives from many conservation management authorities and organisations using their services. Many fly-by-night trainers are cashing in on the poaching crisis gripping Africa. It is often assumed that military and security experience equals appropriate skill, knowledge and integrity levels. This is not always the case. We urge organisations to vet any personnel involved in the training of rangers. Conservation agencies must also be sensitive to the fact that the use of military and security operatives can be seen as a threat to a country's sovereignty and this should only be done through the appropriate political channels and with the necessary clearance.
6. Profiteering by military equipment manufacturers – These manufacturers now see the conservation community as another market in which to operate and sell their goods. High tech solutions are being sold to NGOs and governments alike as a 'silver bullet' in the war on poaching when basics skills and equipment such as boots, uniform and first aid equipment are lacking. One cannot operate effectively without the basics in place. Rangers will always need to make arrests and apprehend poaching suspects no matter what technology is being used.
7. The role of the media - The media is playing a role by selling military type training interventions as the solution to the poaching crisis. Military 'heroes' are being portrayed as the answer to Africa's poaching woes. This is not the case. The media's role should be to ensure rangers who operate in the frontlines of conservation are well trained, supported and equipped. This will make a difference.
1. Ranger training should not be haphazard but rather carried out as part of an integrated and structured approach. Firstly, selection of the right individuals to employ as rangers is key. There are very specific attributes needed to be a successful ranger. These are best understood by African rangers themselves. A structured selection process should be followed by a strategic ranger needs assessment which will help focus interventions in the areas of greatest need to ensure rangers are appropriately supported.
2. There are extremely competent ranger trainers already operating in Africa. These individuals have spent their careers honing the skills needed to operate in the African bush. They understand the African environment and appreciate the social, political and cultural sensitivities that exist. Seeking foreign trainers should not be the default. We have fantastic expertise in Africa and this should be utilised. Accredited and experienced training providers that use accredited training material in line with industry accepted best practice guidelines should be used. The International Ranger Federation (IRF) has alongside multiple partners developed clear guidelines for ranger training. These should be utilised.
3. There may be some specialist skills that military trainers can offer to rangers involved in anti-poaching work but any training done by military personnel should also be carried out in conjunction with an experienced ranger or ranger trainer who understands the African bush and the conditions under which rangers operate. A collaborative approach is needed. Some skills where military support may be appropriate include operations room and incident management, command and control skills, advanced first aid, CASEVAC procedures, engineering, communications, K9 operations, intelligence mapping and tactical shooting but context is key and must be understood. At the end of the day, if these skills are not adapted to the site specific habitats, wildlife, threats, challenges and community considerations, they are worth little. It must also be noted that threat levels to rangers vary depending on the area of operation. There are areas in Africa where high level tactical skills are not needed due to reduced threat levels.
4. Military and security personnel wishing to engage in ranger training need to be subject to a stringent selection and African acclimatisation process whereby an understanding of the working environments of rangers can be given. They need to understand that any training conducted must be under African supervision to ensure that the context is understood. Terminology, equipment and tactics differ between the military, security and conservation sectors.
5. Rangers and those from the military and security sectors need to engage in dialogue to ensure any support is directed appropriately. The GRAA is willing to provide the link between these sectors and has been engaging with various groupings on this matter. We endeavour to ensure co-ordination of effort and appropriateness of skills training by using our network of protected area professionals.
6. Any training presented must be compatible with current operations and equipment. Often the training offered is not even remotely linked to what equipment, operational responsibility, law or skills allows. There is no point training rangers to use skills or equipment that they will never have due to budget and logistical constraints.
The GRAA urges military and security personnel currently engaging in ranger training in Africa to engage with us in terms of pursuing a solution based approach. It is only through effective collaboration that Africa's rangers can truly benefit from such interventions.
Supporting Quotes from GRAA Professional Members:
1. Brian Harris - Conservation Outcomes - 30 years' experience in ranger training across Africa and with a distinguished military service record with Special Forces.
"The challenge lies with presenting a course adapted to the site-specific threats and challenges that the protected area presents. African field ranger training has to be presented by experienced African trainers who are able to weave their African bushcraft and paramilitary knowledge and skills into the training."
2. Maj Gen (Ret) Johan Jooste – Head of Special Projects, South African National Parks – After 35 years active service in the military, Jooste joined the fight against poaching in 2012.
"It is incumbent on us to ensure acknowledgement of the specialized nature of anti-poaching operations. Although military techniques and tactics are applied, it is done selectively, tailored and in a paramilitary manner."
3. Jack Greef – Ntomeni Ranger Services – Over 25 years' experience in conservation and ranger training after a decorated military career.
"Africa has access to very experienced bush war veterans, that can present the required military training in all the languages on the African continent. African conservation however, can do with the latest experience in combat medical trauma, extreme K9 operating conditions and other military skills that can support the anti-poaching operations and infrastructure in protected areas".
4. Ruben De Kock - African Field Ranger Training Services Division, Southern African Wildlife College – Over 25 years' field ranger training experience and having spent 9 years in the military.
"There seems to be an expectation from the foreign military operators that all the equipment and training levels at the basic levels are the same. This is not the case. Often the military offering services will assume that all they had in a war on foreign soils is in place in Africa. This is not the case. They seem to forget that it took them years of training and experience to reach the so called "Special Force" level. Personnel currently fighting poachers in the field have been through basic training and have applied their experiences and skills in combating the crime of poaching. They are dedicated to their task and not to the paramilitary side of the effort only."
Image: Field Rangers drilling at the Southern African Wildlife College
Photo Credit: Peter Chadwick
For any additional information do not hesitate to contact the GRAA.
ABOUT THE GAME RANGERS' ASSOCIATION OF AFRICA (GRAA)
The Game Rangers' Association of Africa (GRAA) is a non-profit organisation which was founded in 1970 as a properly constituted association. The GRAA is a well-established defined community of practice which provides support, networks and representation for game rangers across Africa.
The GRAA is a founder member of the International Ranger Federation (IRF) and an international member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Over 1800 members have joined the GRAA since 1970, representing more than 23 countries. Our members are from a variety of disciplines operating at the coalface of African conservation on a daily basis.