James Hockaday, Metro | Dec 26, 2019
Vulnerable black rhinos have been relocated away from the eyes of hunters with the assistance of British soldiers.
Troops from the 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles teamed up with conservationists, training rangers at Malawi’s Liwonde National Park to improve their patrols in a bid to crack down on the illegal wildlife trade. Only 5,500 black rhinos live in the wild today because hunters have decimated their numbers.
Their horns are removed and sold on to the Far East, where they are ground down and turned into ‘medicine’, aphrodisiacs, or jewellery. Around the end of their three-month assignment, the Gurkhas helped with one of the largest international rhino re-location to date.
Conservation group African Parks say 17 of the 1.4 tonne animals were hauled by air and road from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and taken to a new home in Malawi. Major Jez England, officer commanding the British Army Counter-Poaching Team in Liwonde said the operation had been ‘hugely successful’.
He added: ‘Not only do we share skills with the rangers, improving their efficiency and ability to patrol larger areas, but it also provides a unique opportunity for our soldiers to train in a challenging environment. ‘Helping with the rhino move was a fitting end to our time in Malawi, getting up close to the animals we are here to help protect was an experience the soldiers won’t forget.’
So far, the army has helped train 200 rangers in the country and no high-value species have been poached in Liwonde since 2017.
The project was led by African Parks in conjunction with Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. It aims to boost the rhino population in the region and preserve this critically endangered species for the next generation. Since their release, African Parks is continuing to monitor the animals as they settle in to their new home.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest transnational crime behind drugs, arms and human trafficking and can have hugely destabilising consequences.
He added: ‘With this deployment, our armed forces have once again demonstrated their versatility and value by contributing to the conservation work taking place in Malawi.
‘Working with local communities, host governments and wildlife groups is key to our approach, we want to see sustainable, community-led solutions that help promote security and stability for both the people and wildlife of Africa.’
The counter-poaching ranger partnering programme is funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and delivered by the British Army.
The UK Government has committed over £36 million to tackle the illegal wildlife trade between 2014 and 2021. Part of this is to help support transboundary work to allow animals to move more safely between areas and across national borders.