WHAT: Join an African Rhino Anti-Poaching Unit
As anti-poaching units in Africa face an increasingly sophisticated enemy, it seems nowadays like African conservation campaigns to save the rhino are fighting a losing battle. When you look at the numbers, it’s not hard to see why the rhino poachers are winning.
Poaching in Africa is big business. The worst-hit are the Cape buffalo, lion, leopard, elephant, and rhinoceros. AKA: The ‘Big Five,’ a term coined by big-game hunters to classify animals whose power and pace make them difficult and dangerous to hunt on foot. Sadly, their speed and strength don’t mean they can outrun nor deflect bullets. This is devastating for them but great for the illegal, multi-billion dollar wildlife trade.
Four of these five creatures are now in dire straits. Lions, leopards, and elephants are all classified as vulnerable. Rhino conservation experts recently declared the black rhino and the southern white to be on the verge of extinction. Then there’s the Northern white rhino, or what’s left of them. Despite best efforts from rhino anti-poaching rangers, in March 2019, the last male northern white rhino died, effectively rendering them extinct. Yet still, as supply dwindles and demand rises, the traditional Chinese medical market considers rhinoceros horn a more desirable and lucrative commodity than ever before. As concern grows, efforts to save the rhino are being stepped up. Meanwhile, poachers turn to poison, veterinary drugs, and other increasingly sophisticated ways to get paid.
If the idea that rhinos may be consigned to the history books inspires you to act, then consider donating or partaking in education volunteer education programs. However, if the call to save the rhino is strong enough, and you’re willing to take on the commitment and sacrifice, then you could always apply to serve as a Rhino anti-poaching ranger.
As a rhino conservation ranger, you’ll be going after some seriously dangerous individuals. Rhino poaching in Africa carries heavy penalties, ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollar fines to life imprisonment to a death sentence for those on the losing end of a gun battle. Consequently, catching a rhino poacher red-handed is a tricky, high-risk affair. Rhino poachers are silent, sneaky, and they work at night in the pitch-black depths of the jungle and Savannah. These syndicate-funded bad guys have night-vision goggles, GPS, and state-of-the-art, military-grade rifles. Meanwhile, the good guys, outgunned and underfunded, often struggle to afford a decent raincoat. It’s the latter group you’ll be training, working, and living with. If you graduate, you’ll be sharing bush patrols with veteran Rhino anti-poaching rangers, often for weeks at a time in brutal conditions to save what’s left of the dwindling rhino population.
If that sounds like something you can cope with, then contact the African wildlife organizations willing to take on volunteers. If accepted, you’ll learn the skills needed and be shown the gritty, often heartbreaking reality of protecting Africa’s wildlife.
Rhino anti-poaching rangers are trained in crime scene analysis, human tracking, camouflage and concealment, ambush planning, dangerous game protocols, air to ground protocols, map reading, surveillance practices, bush survival tactics, shelter building, and much more. Essentially, you’ll be preparing yourself to track, confront, and convict armed poachers. Consequently, you’ll need to be fitter and stronger than the guys you’re hunting. If you make the grade, then depending on regulations, you may receive weapons training, with an emphasis on gunshot detection and approach, and night shooting. African conservation units often look more favorably on applicants with military backgrounds. After training, you’ll join as an assistant, an extra pair of eyes and ears there to help, listen, learn, and be ready to act at any moment.
Rhino anti-poaching rangers are most active in Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya.
Consider your quarry. At the lower, boots-on-the-ground end of the spectrum, there are the African rhino poachers. These guys are usually often heavily armed, dirt-poor trackers. Rhino poaching is their only source of income. Moreover, a single rhino horn may amount to years’ worth of food on the family table. At the upper end, rhino conservation workers must deal with corrupt politicians and international smugglers. Then there’s the middlemen: groups like Al Shabaab, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and other extremist criminal networks whose brutal campaigns require ongoing funding. These humans are by far the most vicious, dangerous creatures you’ll encounter. Then, there are the animals you’re protecting. All of them, even the young ones, are equally capable of ending you in a heartbeat.
Working on the front line of rhino conservation means you’re essentially wandering Jurassic Park with a deadly profound mission statement. Joining an Anti-Poaching unit is certainly not for everyone. However, most who get involved in this work form strong ties with Africa, its people, and the environment. They also develop deep bonds with the dangerous yet heartrendingly fragile creatures they commit to protecting. If and when they break away, many go on to become ambassadors for African wildlife.