Protecting parks

2007-05-16

in Economics, The environment, The outdoors

While it is excellent to have national parks established, the difficulty with making them meaningful lies in the enforcement of rules on entry and activity within the defined territory. Even American national parks are having trouble with poachers. The problem is certain to be more acute in less affluent areas, where the impulse to protect nature is more immediately threatened by poverty. Just 14 rangers patrol the 4,200 square kilometres of the Nouabale-Ndoki national park in Congo. Technology can play a part in park management: from satellite tracking and motion sensors to networks of internet connected metal detectors looking for guns and machetes.

Ultimately, technical fixes will probably not be adequate protection in the most vulnerable areas. The reasons for this are primarily economic. There is more money to be had in exploiting the content of parks than in protecting it, and there is no incentive for local people to refrain from damaging activities and be vigilant in preventing others from doing so. As with climate change, the biggest challenge lies in creating institutional and financial structures that encourage environmentally responsible behaviour. Growing recognition of that among policy-makers and the NGO community may eventually lead to much more effective enforcement mechanisms.

This article discusses the TrailGuard metal detectors in much more detail. They sound very clever, even if they are unlikely to solve any problems in and of themselves.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anon @ Wadh May 17, 2007 at 3:14 pm

I disagree about technology never being able to protect parks by itself. It could. Doing so would simply cost a lot more than encouraging the locals to protect it. The latter course is also a lot more ethically and politically acceptable. After all, people who live beside (or inside) parks have the most immediate connection to whatever happens there.

. September 12, 2017 at 8:27 pm

He had spent long enough in conservation—25 years, much of it in Kruger National Park, his first love from childhood, and in Kwa-Zulu Natal—to know that simply throwing money at policing was woefully ineffective. It was stupid to address just the symptom, the poaching, rather than the causes. He was fighting networks that stretched from poor villages in the wildlife areas to fancy shops in Beijing and ivory-carving factories in Vietnam, involving not only the poachers and the henchmen who controlled them but corrupt individuals in government, the judiciary, the police and, he insisted, even NGOs and conservation departments. His biggest problem was that almost no group or institution was clean. At the village end, poachers flashed their money and lured in other young men; at the Far Eastern end, demand was insatiable. As fast as the rangers armed themselves, the poachers went one better, toting Kalashnikovs against single-shot rifles. Penalties for their crimes were laughably light; ivory left the Selous in an unending stream. Even if he lopped a head off this octopus, he would find several legs still hard at work.

To fight this, he proposed an idea he had first heard from a detective in South Africa: when investigating a crime, create a network of informants. His were local people, incentivised with uniforms, cash and GPS devices to patrol in a buffer zone round their villages, recording the movements of elephants and also of their would-be killers, intercepting them and their rifles before they even reached the park. He wanted scouts to mingle, too, with the poachers living in their villages, finding out so much about them that, when arrested, they would instantly spill the beans on their paymasters. After all, the ivory they were paid five euros a kilo for was going for 2,000 euros in China.

This intelligence-led policing was so successful that in five years more than 2,000 poachers were arrested; the rate of poaching, he reckoned, was reduced by more than half, and the elephant population began to stabilise. Yet rangers, as he saw them, were like goalkeepers in a football team: the last line of defence. He also had to persuade farmers not to attack the elephants who trampled their crops, but to keep them away with barriers of chilli plants or beehives. He taught schoolchildren to value nature, and to put themselves in the paws, feet and hooves of the wild creatures that lived alongside them. (In fact, he wanted everyone in the world to try that exercise.) And he fortified Tanzania’s own serious-crime investigation agency with money for sniffer dogs and handlers and strong backing for timid prosecutors. As a result he helped get several kingpins arrested and tried, including Yang Fenglan, “The Queen of Ivory”, and Boniface Methew Malyango, known as Shetani, “The Devil has no Mercy”.

The gunman who forced his taxi door and shot him on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam probably killed him for his work.

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