Law Enforcement

Garamba
Terrorist groups fund activities through illegal ivory poaching. © Marco Longari
Terrorist groups fund activities through illegal ivory poaching.

Garamba is situated in one of the most hostile areas in Africa. This is largely due to a challenging combination of highly armed poachers and various terrorist and guerrilla groups, all of whom view the wildlife in Garamba as a way of financially supporting their initiatives, through the ivory and bushmeat trade. The park also shares 200 km of its border with war-torn South Sudan.  Our efforts are numerous, and their impacts transformational. Our rangers are regularly the only stabilising force in the region and the only lifeline for both wildlife and people. They not only risk their lives protecting elephants but are often the first and only responders to rescue or evacuate people affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and other militarised forces. Through our efforts, neighbouring communities are finally experiencing improved livelihoods and opportunity as peace and civility slowly return to this corner of the world again.

Threats

Garamba’s park rangers counter five different forces on a near daily basis:

  1. Heavily armed and militarised ivory and bushmeat poachers from South Sudan.
  2. Janjaweed from the infamous Darfur region in North Sudan.
  3. The notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who is based in the Azande Domain de Chasse to the west of the park. They exchange and sell ivory for money, food and the weapons needed to support their campaign of terror and instability.
  4. Local Congolese poachers, they mostly target bushmeat but are willing to shoot elephant if the opportunity arises.
  5. An unidentified helicopter that carries the poachers responsible for killing elephants in 2012, 2014 and again in 2015, but have not occurred again since then.
Rangers at Garamba National Park © Warren Smart
Park rangers are better equipped as a result of expert training.

Training

Park rangers are mainly from the surrounding area and have undergone rigorous training by various experts. African Parks has in-house training facilitators to standardise law enforcement training programmes within the organisation, which has vastly enhanced rangers’ skillsets. Almost 70% of Garamba’s ranger force has undergone advanced tactical and investigative training, which includes improved handling of incidents, evidence collection, case handling, and the legal aspects of law enforcement. In addition, a paramedic was fully employed in 2017 and 14 of the rangers were provided with medic training, allowing management to deploy an emergency response team to incidents.

Positive Results

Significant numbers of rangers were recruited to step up anti-poaching efforts, and have undergone in-depth training on various law enforcement skills such as firearm handling, patrol methods, first aid, ambush and counter-ambush tactics, small unit tactics and day-night patrols. In 2017, the ranger team grew by 23%, patrol man-days doubled, and the aerial surveillance was constant compared to 2016.  

Some of the best of Garamba’s rangers were selected to form a rapid reaction force. The rapid reaction force, based at the park headquarters, is on standby 24/7 and acts as a helicopter-borne force to be called out on short notice to support ranger teams deployed in the field. In addition, a fruitful collaboration with National Geographic and ESRI has rapidly enhanced the development of GIS to help combat poaching and illegal wildlife trade. Another unique relationship with the US Coast Guard Academy has enhanced the development of Remote Sensing for detecting changes in the Garamba landscape all of which greatly enhances the park’s law enforcement efforts.  Their efforts have resulted in a dramatic decline in illegal activity; elephant poaching was down by 50% in 2017 compared to prior years.

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Rangers on patrol in Garamba
Rangers on patrol in Garamba © Thomas Nicolon

Case Study

Reclaiming the Park

For nine years, only the bottom third of Garamba could be managed because of pressure from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). However, since April 2014, the park has been able to expand its sphere of influence to encompass the entire park as well as areas within the Domain de Chasse where wildlife still occurs. This is largely due to the aquiring of a helicopter, which enables rangers to move around freely to wherever they need to be, even during the rainy season. At the same time, all-weather airstrips were repaired so that aircraft can also be used at the peak of the wet season and 100 kilometres of roads have been upgraded and reopened. However, the LRA is still present, with recent reports once again showing an increase in their activity around the park.

Stabilising force for Communities:

Few people understand the breadth and depth of impacts that arise from properly functioning protected areas. In 2016 we received a letter of thanks for the efforts of our team in Garamba, who responded to an urgent request to evacuate and care for a young Congolese man after he was shot by a group of armed bandits west of the park. International humanitarian and peacekeeping forces were also alerted, but it was the Garamba team that responded, saving the young man’s life.