Updated: Aug 24
This week, I thought I would discuss the different tiers of law enforcement and what effort goes into each level to suppress wildlife trafficking and ensure animals and nature's existence. There are three distinct law enforcement levels, and the first two are put in place to prevent and limit the number of animals poached and traded across the world. So, without further waffling, let us crack into the first level.
Men and women put their lives on the line day and night to protect wildlife
Boots on the ground
If you thought navy seals were hardcore, you should check out how an anti-poaching team operates, and they are the tier one operators of the conservation world. They have to be physically and mentally fit and have to know the bush environment inside out. Another obstacle to overcome while being in the field is the actual animals you're trying to protect, yes, whether it be an elephant, rhino, lion, tiger, snake or spider, these animals will try and charge, stalk and bite you, whether it be for defence or they are just livid at you for entering their territory and see you as a threat. After all these obstacles, the rangers still have to keep their heads on a swivel for poachers, tracks, and snares.
Rangers removing snares from the bush
This is not a nine to five job either. Most days start at four o clock in the morning and end late at night. This is on a non-eventful day of just patrolling, unlike other specialized teams of law enforcement around the world that get highly specialized gear like night vision goggles, a range of weaponry and bulletproof vests. Rangers and anti-poaching units can sometimes struggle to procure the bare essentials such as boots and uniforms. Many rangers don't get to see their families very often, and when they are given leave, it's not for very long.
Anti poaching teams need to be well disciplined and work as a team
The list of negatives that these rangers have to put up with goes on, but I don't want to bore you or make you sad or discouraged, so here are a couple of positives about being a ranger in an anti-poaching unit. The teams are mostly made up of four to five individuals who may have been together since their training. They form a close bond with each other and become brothers in arms. Their knowledge of the bush is unparalleled, and most of them would far rather be in the thick brush then pushing papers in an office. They make nature reserves a safer place for the animals and the general public who come to view the animals in their natural habitat. They are proud of what they do and proud of their heritage. If they only get a few arrests the poachers are prosecuted, it's a good day for them, and the animals they protect are safe for another night.
Police, Middlemen and Investigations
If and when an animal is poached, and its parts are taken out of the country, it is up to the next line of defence to stop the traders and middlemen from exporting it to the countries that demand it. Not so long ago, most people, including me, thought that gaining intelligence and bringing down the "kingpins" as they are known at the top of the chain will hinder or eradicate the poaching or wildlife crime problem.
Once enough intelligence is gathered police can move in to apprehend the suspects
However, just like poachers at the bottom of the crime chain which are easily expendable, so are these kingpins, if one is arrested another one will slip into the void and take control of the market. No, it is the middlemen that you want to disrupt the system. This comes in the form of the airport and harbour security. Sniffer dogs, searching for hidden compartments and anything else out of the ordinary. Chameleons and other lizards have been found sewn into material dolls, baby cactus strapped to their body and rhino horn or ivory in a hidden compartment in suitcases and cargo containers. Gathering of intelligence, undercover work and sting operations are the most effective procedures to apprehend these criminals.
It's not always the kingpins that you want to stop or disrupt trafficking chains
Once these criminals are brought to book, the justice system in many parts of the world cannot deliver the appropriate sentence that the crime entailed. For instance, rhino horn, ivory, tiger skin and pangolin traders often get a slap on the wrist by issuing a weak fine or a measly 3-month prison sentence at which point they are then thrown back into the pond. Corruption lurks at all law enforcement levels, whether it be a corrupt ranger, a dirty cop or a politician. They are all in it to make some easy cash and look the other way.
The law itself
Each country has its wildlife protection laws, and some countries enforce these laws more than others. For example, China only updated its regulations on wildlife protection this year (2021) after decades of paying no attention to their or other countries endangered wildlife. It took a pandemic for them to sit up properly and wipe away the layer of caked dust on the lever arch file labelled wildlife protection law.
Laws may change depending on research and populations of animals needing protection
CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is a global agreement between governments. Its objective is to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants' specimens does not threaten their survival. States that have agreed to be bound by the Convention ('joined' CITES) are known as Parties. Although CITES is legally binding on the Parties – in other words, they have to implement the Convention – it does not take the place of national laws. Instead, it provides a framework to be respected by each Party, which has to adopt its domestic legislation to ensure that CITES is implemented at the national level.
There are three appendices which set out the degrees in which wildlife can be traded
Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade-in specimens of these species are permitted only in exceptional circumstances.
Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled to avoid use unsuited with their survival.
Appendix III This Appendix encompasses species protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling the trade. Variations to Appendix III follow a specific procedure from changes to appendices I and II, as each Party is eligible to make unilateral alterations. A specimen of a CITES-listed species may be imported into or exported (or re-exported) from a State party to the Convention only if the relevant document has been obtained and presented for clearance at the port of entry or exit. There is some distinction between the requirements from one country to another. It is always necessary to check on the national laws that may be stricter, but the essential circumstances that apply for Appendices I and II.
Ongoing research and surveys are critical in order to protect species
CITES can move species in and out of different appendices based on scientific evidence put forward by the country of which the species originates. This change may be necessary because the species needs more protection or moved to a lower appendix where sustainable trade may be allowed.
So that was a brief overview of law enforcement for wildlife and who is protecting them. Although we see and hear about many people trying to exploit nature and use it unsustainably, we must remember that there are just as many honest citizens and conservationists worldwide protecting them and keeping them safe.
Call to action
I'm going to end off by with a call to action, you don't need to be part of an anti-poaching unit or a police officer or even a politician making laws, all you need to do is be yourself and if you see anything suspicious no matter how big or small, report it to the local police and if you're in a nature reserve, try to locate where you are in a nature reserve and report it as soon as possible to the head ranger or manager of that reserve.
Good Luck and Stay Safe out there