July 15th 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORIES Liberal discontents take internal struggle to Shakespearean heights

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal Pell charged: the process is the punishment

EUTHANASIA What Boudewijn Chabot can teach Victoria

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Taiwan's 'friends' make the Beijing cut

FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE NT abortion law oppressive towards health professionals

HEALTH Gardasil(R) and the man upon the stair, Part I

AFRICAN AFFAIRS Special force deals with scourge of poaching

MUSIC Andrea Keller: transpositions of death and grief

CINEMA Cars 3: On ageing without rusting

BOOK REVIEW Biggest democracy makes big strides

BOOK REVIEW A refinement of the Industrial Revolution


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Special force deals with scourge of poaching

by John Elsegood

News Weekly, July 15, 2017

Poaching is big business in Africa. It is also a bloody business, and not just for the exotic animals slain.

Death in the African bush can come to villagers, park rangers and tourists who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, while official corruption allows the crime to flourish.

In the Sebungwe region of northeastern Zimbabwe, elephant herds dropped by 74 per cent between 2007 and 2014.

The mandatory nine-year imprisonment in Zimbabwe for poachers is no deterrent when buyers are prepared to pay from $1000 to $2100 per kilogram for the white gold that is ivory.

The rhino faces a similar persecution as the horn is considered to be valuable for medicinal purposes and as an aphrodisiac. In 1970 there were 65,000 of the animals in Africa; a quarter of a century later there are only 3,000.

Koos Moorcroft and wife Isobelle

Some 125 rhinos perished in Namibia in 2015 at the hands of poachers. In the neighbouring regional powerhouse, South Africa, the situation is even worse in the dramatic kill rate of the rhino.

Of negligible concern during the white government era (1910–94), the figures were still in single figures in South Africa at the start of the 21st century; between 2002 and 2007, the most killed in a year was 25 (in 2002), with 13 being killed in 2007.

Since then the figures have increased dramatically, rising from 83 (2008) and escalating each year subsequently: 333, 448, 668, 1004 and 1215 over the next five years.

South Africa’s Koos Moorcroft has some worthwhile knowledge in helping to train those fighting this pernicious scourge in Namibia.

Moorcroft’s army life is worth a separate story and includes: active service in the Border War; parachuting from 35,000 feet and representing South Africa in the World Parachuting Championships; undergoing a nuclear and biological warfare course, attack diver; dining with former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and Prince Charles (an interesting republican-royal mix); and, for the last eight years of his military career, being Sergeant Major of the South African Army, until his retirement in 2001.

Moorcroft was then employed by Nokia as a security director, leading tours in Angola, including bush survival training. Since 2009 he has been with Chute Systems, a company that offers expert military training to African countries. He spent some four years providing commando-style training for the Namibian Defence Ministry.

Between 2014 and 2016 he trained park rangers for the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET). Part of his brief was to train small patrol teams in anti-poaching tactics.

The militarisation of poaching

Poaching is not confined to subsistence-level banditry. The militarisation of poaching by former service personnel, crime syndicates and professional hunters has meant that seasoned former military men are needed to train a counter force.

“Special Forces patrol tactics are the only way to proactively prevent poachers getting to the animals,” Moorcroft said while in Perth recently.

“Centralisation is not the answer; local training is preferred, selecting suitable candidates to be trained in specific parks. There is a seven-day selection process, including psychological testing and police clearances.

“In Namibia we kill poachers only in self-defence, but in Botswana they shoot to kill them, seeing them as a threat not only to the animals but also to the tourist industry and to individual tourists.

“Poachers work in seven-man teams, consisting of trackers, hunters, cutters and one protection man with a machinegun, prepared to fire on park rangers. Therefore well-trained men on the ground are needed with rapid reaction times. Sound intelligence with support systems such as surveillance cameras and drones can also assist with early warnings.”

Moorcroft is part of an increasing number of ex-military men using their skills in assisting others to protect wildlife. Vetpaw (Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife), based in New York City, gives training in South Africa; while charity groups like IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) are tapping into those with battlefield and intelligence experience.

Rhino horn fetches as much as $65,000 a kilo on the black market, and the demand for it in China and Vietnam continues to rise. Hence the ruthless determination of poachers to use automatic weapons and helicopters and to buy off corrupt politicians.

If at times it seems that only the power of prayer can turn this slaughter of the innocents around then perhaps the softly spoken determined Moorcroft has the credentials to help there too.

Not only has he jumped from 35,000 feet, but he has prayed successfully from that height too, while returning from Windhoek to Pretoria, in March 2015, when his wife Isobelle was not expected to see the night out.

Perhaps her recovery to full strength is a portent of things to come for African endangered species, if men like Koos Moorcroft can prevail.

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