Fri, Nov 03, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Malawi turns tide in poaching war

AFP, LIWONDE, Malawi

Defence Attache for the British High Commission in Malawi and Royal Marines Commando Colonel Mike Geldard, right, and British Counter Poaching Operator and Major Tony Viney observe a counterpoaching training course for Game Rangers at the Liwonde National Park in Malawi on Oct. 14.

Photo: AFP

Under a scorching sun, a team of British soldiers and Malawian rangers shelter under a tree ready to pounce on their prey: poachers.

The combined force, armed with rifles and handcuffs, did not encounter any poachers as it patrolled the 530km2 Liwonde National Park in Malawi’s south.

However, the presence of the highly trained and well-equipped British forces was reassuring for the rangers who routinely confront gangs of poachers armed with Kalashnikovs.

Liwonde, which borders Mozambique, is Malawi’s leading game reserve, and is home to the southern African country’s largest elephant and rhinoceros populations.

The seven British soldiers are there to train 35 of Malawi’s anti-poaching rangers.

Prince Harry is the public face of the project that began last year, and earlier this year he visited the park to oversee the relocation of more than 300 elephants to the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in central Malawi.

“We were in a poaching crisis in 2015 in this park... but the situation has now been contained,” Malawian Department of National Parks and Wildlife Director Bright Kumchedwa said.

And although the fight against the illicit wildlife trade is far from over — poaching halved the country’s elephant population from 4,000 in the 1980s to 2,000 in 2015 — gains are being made.

“The good news is that we have had only one case of a rhino being poached in two years in this park,” Kumchedwa said. “[British forces] are transferring military skills to Malawian rangers to use in conservation... the soldiers are adding value to the training of rangers.”

Mike Geldard, the British army colonel in charge of the training, described the campaign against poachers as “a game of cat and mouse with danger.”

“We are here to train rangers how to protect themselves from wild animals and not necessarily to shoot poachers,” said Geldard, who is also Britain’s defense attache to several African countries. “We are training them how to track down poachers and defend themselves from animals.”

Kingsley Kachoka, a Malawian who is a sergeant in the British army, said he was delighted to be home “to help my country to deal with poachers.”

“I hope there will be a change because we are covering more ground in counterpoaching skills,” he said.

Malawian ranger Edward Makupiza said that in the past he feared being shot by heavily armed Mozambican poachers who carry assault rifles when they cross the border in to Malawi in pursuit of elephants.

“But now after training with the British army, I know how to protect myself and others from danger,” he said.

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