In this Peace Parks TV episode, we hear from ranger trainers and students about a vital revolution poised to take effect in southern Africa: a course aimed at closing the gap between transnational organised crime and rangers on the frontlines of conservation – on both sides of national borders.
Across these landscapes, it’s time to level the playing fields: to give rangers and law enforcement officers a toolkit of specialist technical, analytical and management skills to better coordinate responses, raise standards of practice and crack down harder on wildlife crime syndicates. “It is important for us to recognise that if we are not very organised, we cannot defeat organised crime,” emphasises Tumelo Matjekane, Combatting Wildlife Crime Project Manager for Peace Parks.
Raising the Game: A Ranger Training Revolution
Now, information-sharing, technology and boots on the transboundary ground are coming together in a pioneering and impactful training approach, giving the edge to those working against the criminal odds. The Swedish Defence University (SEDU), in collaboration with Peace Parks Foundation and the Southern African Wildlife College (SAWC), has responded by developing a new curriculum, Specialist Environmental Crime Training; in a nutshell, ‘Ranger Revolution’ training. It has been designed to better equip rangers and other law enforcement officials facing significant wildlife and forest crime challenges spanning these adjoining cross-border landscapes. Supported by South African National Parks (SANParks), the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, and the private sector, and in partnership with the KAZA (Kavango Zambezi) Secretariat, the first course of its kind recently took place in the College’s newly established Protected Area Integrity Operations Room.
The 21 students attending this ten-day introductory course came from Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia representing four of the five partner states within the KAZA transboundary landscape, speaking to the importance of joint operations. Their curriculum consisted of modules designed to provide the much-needed advantage over criminal networks, equipping rangers with enhanced skills in centralised command and control through operational room management, intelligence and information-led policing, and crime scene management.
“What’s groundbreaking is that it’s the first course of its kind in Africa, and the first in conservation,” states Altin Gysman, Head of Protected Area Integrity and African Field Ranger Training Services at SAWC. “Now we are equipping field rangers with the knowledge they need to be a step ahead of poachers, aiming to change the dynamics and dimensions within our defences. Together, we’re educating and empowering our rangers.”
A Ranger’s Perspective
The visible impact of the course on ranger students bodes well for the impact on the ground when they return to their duties in protected areas. As graduates they are now educated and empowered on a new level to be more proficient in decision-making in the field and, specifically, closely linked to technology.
“I have a lot of information and I acquired so many skills here that I’m going to put in practice and implement and see how this can assist or help us in fighting wildlife crimes in Botswana,” says Ofentse Gaolebe enthusiastically, as one of the course participants operating in the field in Botswana.
To be able to equip rangers in this way relies critically on joining both hands and funds, exemplified by this collaborative training initiative generously funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and the CITES Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (CITES MIKE) Programme.
Visit www.wildlifecollege.org.za to learn more about the impactful training initiatives underway at SAWC.