I suppose it has always been a dream of mine to work with anti-poaching units since my first time coming to Africa when I worked in South Africa for a season in 1999. What likely sparked this anti-poaching interest was when my boss left me in charge of the thousands of acres and told me not to let anyone poach. Of course, poachers did come, and I ended up chasing them down bumpy roads in a beat up Volkswagen Beatle. In their truck, they easily outran me, much to my relief.
For our first Tanzania 2014 course, we were asked to train rangers and anti-poaching units from a number of conservation areas that cover wildlife migration corridors linking the National Parks of the famed Northern Circuit. There were over 40 individuals from these areas that work on foot, by vehicle, in microlights, and even in dog units. The training was hosted by Manyara Ranch and organized by the Honeyguide Foundation, an organization that is dedicated to supporting communities and the conservation of wildlife and natural resources through long-term community partnerships. A big thanks to them, Big Life Foundation, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and the Tanzania People and Wildlife Fund (TPW).
On our drive into their camp, the changes in the wildlife migration corridor were immediately obvious. Less than one year ago, it would be rare to see much wildlife in that area, and this time, during our drive in we saw herds of elephant, giraffe, zebra, impala, gazelle, and eland. Obviously their tactics are working.
On the first morning of class, I was awakened by the units out for their morning training regimen of running, marching, and singing in Maasai. Yet, even after this grueling exercise they were ready and excited for the two days of wilderness medicine training they received in Swahili. While they are civilian units, their militaristic training and operations made them fantastic, organized, and eager students. These teams have had training in many anti-poaching techniques, but our course last year was their first time receiving wilderness first aid training. This is a high-risk group in terms of injury (e.g., gunshot wounds from shootouts with poachers, trauma from animal encounters) and we are thrilled to provide them with the knowledge and skills to help keep them safe on the job.
On our second night in camp, I awoke in the middle of the night to vehicles starting and the units yelling out orders. In the morning, we were informed that their night patrol came across meat poachers killing wildebeest. Apparently these poachers didn’t get the message that there was an anti-poaching training in the area! Bad for them as they were arrested and taken to court, but good for the wildlife that continues to feel more and more relaxed in their natural home.
For our last morning in camp, we discussed how these groups act as stewards for conservation. As part of the discussion, we engaged them in a Leave No Trace class to help them recognizes ways and means beyond their anti-poaching efforts to decrease their human impact. The group enjoyed examining how they could improve upon their efforts to protect not only the wildlife, but the ecosystem itself.
Offering these types of specialized trainings makes Sentinel very proud of our commitments, accomplishments, and contributions to such amazing groups. We look forward to our continued work with the Honeyguide Foundation and other anti-poaching units.