What Is It Like to Work an Anti-Poaching Operation?

Malawian rangers working an anti-poaching operation.

Courtesy of Rory Young

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Answer by Rory Young, professional safari guide, ranger, and tracker:

During anti-poaching operations I try to suppress any emotions and focus on the job at hand. That is not always easy or even possible. Sometimes the emotions come out later, especially when I return home to my family.

When the carcass is fresh, it is crucial to secure the area and quickly build a profile of the tracks before launching a tracking pursuit of the poachers. This also has to be coordinated with mobile apprehension teams, stop groups, observation posts, headquarters, etc. Other authorities also have to be advised. I am usually engaged in “in-ops training,” which means I am involved in both the operation and instructing. Therefore, thankfully, I am very busy and able avoid thinking about it.

It is very difficult when you have found a beautiful animal butchered, and you know, for whatever reason, that the poachers are long gone and you are too late to follow. At such times I feel a mixture of sadness, anger, and frustration. I try to calm those emotions and channel them into determination and dedication.

The worst time of all for me is when everything slows and you have time to think. The fatigue, anger, and after adrenaline—as well as all the thoughts and memories—can be overwhelming. 

On these operations, although we were able to successfully pursue and arrest poacher gangs, we also came across a dead rhino. He was a subadult bull. He had died as a result of wounds from a snare around his neck and from injuries inflicted on him by an older bull. There were no poachers to follow, so we had a lot of time to examine the scene and to think about it all before moving on.

It was tough. The men had been training hard for weeks and were excited about using their newly learned skills in the field. This threw a huge blanket of negativity over everybody, especially since there were no poachers to pursue. It was also an important opportunity for everyone to realize that at such times we can only use the memories created to drive us on later when the going gets really tough, after days without sleep, without food, thirsty, and dirty. Those are the times to remember these horrible, frustrating images and use the emotions to grit one’s teeth and get up and go once again.

Rangers all respond differently. Believe it or not, some don’t even care. However, that doesn’t mean they are not effective and professional. Some are motivated by different reasons. It is not my place to judge them. As long as they are effective and dedicated to getting the job done, that is enough for me. Others are openly angry and will let their feelings be known. Usually the men are silent when the carcass is found and for a long time afterward. Words are meaningless at such times.

Please visit Chengeta Wildlife or Lion Alert to learn more about the problem and what can be done to beat it.

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