Mur­ders of Mother Na­ture’s guardians

• The risk of mur­der is higher for en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists and wildlife of­fi­cers than for po­lice of­fi­cers

The African - - ENVIROMENT - BY FRED BERCOVITCH

Pro­tect­ing the planet is a dan­ger­ous job. School­yard mas­sacres and sui­cide bombers make the head­lines, while the near daily as­sas­si­na­tion of Mother Na­ture’s Guardians is of­ten missed.

Peo­ple who put their bod­ies be­tween an ele­phant and a bul­let or be­tween a tim­ber poacher and a tree, those who are try­ing to pre­serve our shared en­vi­ron­men­tal heritage, are tar­geted for killing at an as­tound­ing rate.

In the United States of Amer­ica, be­tween 1980 and 2014, an av­er­age of 64 law en­force­ment of­fi­cers per year have been felo­niously killed. In 2014, 51 of­fi­cers were killed by gun­fire in the line of duty. Ac­cord­ing to the FBI re­port re­leased on 16 May, the num­ber is de­clin­ing; forty-one of­fi­cers were killed on duty in 2015.

Trag­i­cally, a re­bound seems to be in place with 17 po­lice of­fi­cers killed to date while do­ing their job. In the UK, since 1945, 250 po­lice of­fi­cers have been mur­dered in the line of duty, or about 3 to 4 per year. In 2014, 29 wildlife of­fi­cers were as­sas­si­nated in the line of duty, as well as at least 116 en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists not em­ployed as rangers. The an­nual death toll from mur­der among Mother Na­ture’s Guardians is higher than that among po­lice of­fi­cers and is get­ting worse.

Two rangers were killed and 7 other wounded in a se­ri­ous at­tack on the Ru­mangabo-Goma road on July 29 when the ICCN truck en­coun­tered a mini-bus be­ing looted by about 30 heav­ily armed men. Michel’s funeral took place at Ru­mangabo with a huge com­mu­nity in at­ten­dance. Credit: Dirck Byler/USFWS

In March 2016, Ms. Vic­to­ria Tauli-Cor­puz, an in­dige­nous Filip­ina ap­pointed by the United Na­tions to be a Spe­cial Rap­por­teur on the Rights of In­dige­nous Peo­ples, said, “The pat­tern of killings [of en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists] in many coun­tries is be­com­ing an epi­demic.”

In Novem­ber 2015, IN­TER­POL re­leased a re­port con­nect­ing poach­ing, peo­ple smug­gling, drug traf­fick­ing, illegal weapons trad­ing, and cor­rup­tion with or­ga­nized crime. On 2 Novem­ber 2015, the United States House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed on a voice vote H.R. 2494, The Global Anti-Poach­ing Act, which is cur­rently dor­mant in the Se­nate, for un­known rea­sons be­cause the sub­ject is not a par­ti­san topic.

Sec­tion 4, para­graph 5, of the bill states that the U.S. will sup­port “The de­vel­op­ment and in­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of na­tional sys­tems to pro­vide in­sur­ance to rangers and their fam­i­lies and com­pen­sa­tion for those rangers killed in the line of duty.” Sec­tion 6(a) notes that “The Pres­i­dent is au­tho­rized to pro­vide de­fense ar­ti­cles, de­fense ser­vices, and re­lated train­ing to se­cu­rity forces of Africa for pur­poses of coun­ter­ing wildlife traf­fick­ing and poach­ing.”

War has been de­clared upon wildlife of­fi­cers, as well as on the fauna and flora of our planet. We are los­ing the de­fend­ers of wildlife. Poach­ers, illegal mili­tias, ter­ror­ists, and crime syn­di­cates have al­lied them­selves with cor­rupt politi­cians to de­prive us not only of our nat­u­ral heritage, but of those who are pro­tect­ing the planet in our name.

The US State Depart­ment has shifted $100,000 to the Jus­tice Depart­ment in or­der to in­crease the train­ing of judges to com­bat the illegal wildlife trade in south­ern Africa, and has granted the Ter­ror­ism, Transna­tional Crime and Cor­rup­tion Cen­ter (Ge­orge Ma­son Uni­ver­sity) $400,000 to iden­tify the lead­ers of the crim­i­nal net­works re­spon­si­ble for spear­head­ing the mas­sive il­licit trade in wildlife and drugs. How­ever, where are the U. S. Gov­ern­ment funds for the wildlife of­fi­cers and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists who put their lives on the line to pro­tect our planet?

Richard Leakey was lucky. In 1993, while pi­lot­ing a small air­plane, the en­gine stopped run­ning. He crash landed the ve­hi­cle, crush­ing his legs, but he sur­vived. Both legs weapons to bat­tle the poach­ers. He had been threat­ened and vil­i­fied for his ef­forts and al­though the cause of the crash is un­clear, cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence sug­gests that it was an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt.

He was not only declar­ing war on wildlife poach­ers, but he knew too much about the con­nec­tion be­tween the illegal trade in wildlife parts and cor­rup­tion at the high­est lev­els. Un­der po­lit­i­cal pres­sure fol­low­ing the crash, he left his job, es­tab­lished a new po­lit­i­cal party, and was elected as a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment.

Leakey was lucky be­cause he sur­vived the at­tempt on his life. Oth­ers are not as lucky. One of the most preva­lent myths and il­lu­sions in the West­ern world is that poach­ing for profit is the re­course of poor peas­ants and des­ti­tute vil­lagers who are only try­ing to earn a liv­ing. Not true. The pri­mary poach­ers are trained in guer­rilla war­fare and bush tac­tics, armed with night vi­sion scopes and high pow­ered weapons, of­ten as­sisted by he­li­copters to ex­pe­dite re­moval of their bounty. The poach­ers are linked with ter­ror­ists around the globe, as well as an in­tri­cate net­work of or­ga­nized crime. Poach­ing for profit is not the same thing as poach­ing for bush­meat to put on the ta­ble to eat. The ele­phant killers are not in­ter­ested in shar­ing the meat for con­sump­tion; they are killing 5 ton animals in or­der to ex­tract two front teeth in or­der to sell to crim­i­nals and cor­rupt of­fi­cials who are di­rectly fund­ing in­sur­gents, ji­hadists, and rebel mili­tias. Poach­ers re­cruit, some­times force­fully, their foot sol­diers from the lo­cal vil­lage. And the peo­ple can­not re­sist even though killing the wildlife in their back­yards is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to their lives They are co­erced into co­op­er­at­ing or forced to re­main silent about the poach­ers.

The illegal killers of wildlife have de­clared war on lo­cal vil­lagers and wildlife of­fi­cers. They are aim­ing at the Guardians of Na­ture. They take no pris­on­ers. They shoot to kill. The hu­man cost of the illegal trade in wildlife is a ne­glected topic in the con­ser­va­tion com­mu­nity. This is the story of the men and women who are putting their lives at risk in or­der to pro­tect our chil­dren’s heritage.

Funeral of two rangers were killed and 7 other wounded in a se­ri­ous at­tack on the Ru­mangabo-Goma road on July 29 when the ICCN truck en­coun­tered a mini-bus be­ing looted by about 30 heav­ily armed men.

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