By Brendan Moyle 10/11/2015

A recent news story in Xinhua news concerns a wildlife-ranger patrol in Cambodia.  Two of the four were killed, and one was injured in an encounter with a group of criminals. I would like to extend condolences and sympathy to the families of the men.

This also goes to another issue. A lot of conservation problems (which are made more complicated by poverty and corruption) are being treated as law enforcement issues.  There are a few problems with this approach.  The first is, wildlife rangers aren’t attracted to the job because they relish armed combat with poachers.  It’s more a job that appeals to people who are interested in, well, wildlife and conservation.  These tend to be people who are not specialists in combat.  When policy demands that violence be escalated to combat poachers, this has problems.  Not the least of which, is that poachers can retaliate to an escalation with more violence.  The idea they’ll back off if there’s a few more armed patrols about, is tragically fallacious. It means rather more rangers and more poachers get killed and wounded.

Related to the ranger problem is also the lack of equipment and the lack of training.  Developing countries find it difficult to equip and train regular police forces. Wildlife rangers don’t get a a lot of gear.  This is why we see campaigns from time to time, to raise funds to NGOs to equip these guys.  Rangers aren’t akin to US special forces.  It’s asking a lot of them, to risk their lives for wildlife the West is so keen to save.

And the final dimension is just the corruption.  Sometimes, the rangers are the poachers. It would be a rare thing to find any African range state, that has not caught their wildlife rangers engaged in a spot of poaching.  Rangers also can extract money off local communities who live adjacent to, or within reserves.  Spot fines, threats of reporting villagers for breaking local regulations, all provide the less scrupulous with ways to obtain ‘rents’ off the locals.  This sometimes boils over into resentment.  This has contributed to insurrectionist activity in many reserves in India.

In short, like most things in conservation, nothing is as easy as it seems.  It’s a challenge to lift the levels of enforcement we can apply against poachers, and it’s an approach that has a high human cost.