A poacher does not need a grenade launcher or night vision equipment to kill elephants. These weapons, however, are very effective against the park rangers, police and soldiers protecting the elephant herds.
Many African nations rely on tourism for hard currency and game parks are big tourist draws. Killing an elephant is an attack on national tourist industries.
The government of Kenya regards poaching as a serious economic and a security threat.
Kenya has organized anti-smuggling task forces that include Kenya Wildlife Service park rangers, national police and customs officers. Task force dog teams (typically deployed at customs inspection stations) have been very effective at finding ivory. In 2012, Kenyan security agents recovered 1,677 pieces of ivory weighing 4,644 kilograms.
Until 2012, Kenyan park rangers typically confronted poachers who used unsophisticated (but effective) weapons such as poisoned arrows and spears. In the last two years, however, they have encountered more modern infantry weapons. In 2012, KWS park rangers captured 80 rifles in anti-poaching operations.
The park rangers need more firepower, so the KWS recently hired 68 new community rangers. Community rangers were once park ranger auxiliaries, assisting in various capacities. Now the KWS says their most important jobs are stopping poachers and protecting tourists. The new community ranger course of instructions includes basic paramilitary training, instruction in infantry weapons and surveillance techniques.
If stopping the scourge of blood ivory means spilling poachers' blood, then Kenya's park rangers say, so be it.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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