Counter-Poaching: Thresholds of ‘Acceptability’

Elephant skull and remains (Photo by Stéphane Crayne)
Elephant skull and remains (Photo by Stéphane Crayne)

Check out part 1 of this series here.

Background: ‘mega-poaching’ relates to ivory and rhino-horn and the Central African Republic (CAR) is the ‘frontline’. Dispatch No.3 from the CAR outlines how text-book ideas of conflict and poaching are thrown ‘out of the window’ and moral relativity is the norm.

After months of uncertainty, the predominantly Muslim rebels of the Séléka broke the gates to Bangui unleashing bottled-up tensions, where primal vengeance replaced mediation and fear. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2127 sanctioned Opération Sangaris, in the second military intervention led by the French on the continent in a year, which got underway in December 2013 and is ongoing.

The African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) and the European Union Force for CAR (EUFOR) later relieved Sangaris so it could enforce disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of both Séléka and opposing animist anti-Balaka forces.

As the first Western member of staff to return to the Bayanga World Wildlife Fund (WWF) site, I witnessed in September 2014 the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) take over the nation-wide stabilization mission alongside Sangaris.

This time-line is a text-book case for DDR, security sector reform and peace-making in a state that is otherwise considered failed. Part of Resolution 2127 was a nation-wide embargo on all arms, military equipment or training, which also resulted in the temporary suspension of the CAR from the Kimberley Process.

Photo by Sandiscovery
Photo by Sandiscovery

However, somewhere in the halls of the United Nations lobbying succeeded in exempting the Dzanga Sangha Protected Areas (DSPA) and the Sangha Tri-National Landscape (TNS) from this embargo; this means that anti-poaching operations and the countering of illegal extraction of natural resources going to fund armed groups could carry on as before, even under successive rebel occupations. It was the first time in history a UN Resolution directly mentions a national park.

In January 2015, a UNSC Panel Expert mission to the Dzanga Sangha Protected Areas with WWF logistical support, came to investigate arms, ammunition and natural resource trafficking, after which the mission decided to renew the exclusion under Resolution 2196. As the WWF co-ordinator for law enforcement in the zone, I joined a mission to Nola, the provincial capital and the scene of recent violence: the investigation made good head-way and lifted the veil on the world outside the Protected Areas by showing the sea of chaos at our gates as well as our direct contribution in helping to enforce a UNSC Resolution that denies to armed groups their funding conduits that involve mainly ivory and diamond smuggling.

One of the panel experts commented: “it must be quite something running this . . . a state within a state?” I interrupted to remind him: in partnership with state representatives we provide technical and financial assistance to run everything from social security, medical evacuations, pensions, logistics, community development and outreach, and of course law enforcement. So how does a conservation NGO deal with such violent, irreconcilable and worldly matters from an isolated position surrounded by jungle?

The CAR is landlocked, surrounded by six countries, four of which are highly prone to armed conflict, trafficking and insurgencies. There seems to be several regional common denominators relating to both these states as well as foreign interventions: rich in natural resources and wildlife bastions. Thankfully, Islamic radicalism has not reached these parts: I chuckle when Boko Haram is mentioned in the same sentence as DSPA and CAR, as we are not there – yet.

So who is the enemy?

While surrounded by instability, we have succeeded in keeping a semblance of peace in Bayanga, but my work exposes more and more an insurgent-like foe literally on our door-step. As part of the TNS, DSPA is weakened by the ineptitude of border states, albeit purportedly some of the most stable nations on the continent: looking at the numbers, performance and attitude of anti-poaching operations using law enforcement monitoring, one would think they are the ones recovering from a civil war.

However, though the real threat starts from within it is facilitated from the outside through safe-havens, legal loopholes, logistical support and training. For those interested in international organized crime and how it works, but more importantly where it starts, Bayanga is the ‘frontline’, the genesis of such global monsters.

It is a controversial topic, but facing an insurgent-type enemy, where lines blur, where friends one day are adversaries the next and where winning one battle can revert past victories, counter-poaching is anything but straightforward. Working in a context where a 10% success-rate is acceptable also means working with a threshold of ‘acceptability’. When do you agree to work with a warlord or members of organized crime turned into informers; when do you look the other way, if it means a higher success rate?

This wicked problem of poaching we face is fought simultaneously in our back-yard and across borders; while the phrase ‘anti-poaching’ underlines the struggle against poaching, the phrase ‘counter-poaching’ is more suitable when one takes into account the wider multi-faceted and nefarious operations and insurgent tactics that create threatening parallel administrations and power dynamics.

The debate isn’t to establish if poaching is militarized/organized, a threat to security or livelihoods: for me, the debate is more ‘down-to-earth’ as the ‘war’ is already here. What is the most effective way forward, how do you define success? One cannot just enforce a strategy out of this complex socio-economic and political problem: somehow it must be a combination of ‘hard power’ and ‘hearts and minds’.

Photo by Stéphane Crayne
Photo by Stéphane Crayne
Stéphane Crayne
About Stéphane Crayne 3 Articles
Stéphane Crayne, MA specialized in Conflict and Conservation, is a former French army officer now committed to preserving the world’s most endangered animals, now the centre point of armed conflict and trafficking. Having grown up in Africa, his work for WWF in the Central African Republic promotes a “counter-poaching” concept fostering a multidisciplinary approach to conservation in conflict zones.

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