Murders of Mother Nature’s guardians
• The risk of murder is higher for environmental activists and wildlife officers than for police officers
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.