How far would you go for your job? Would you put your life on the line or avoid conflict? Park Rangers in West Africa have been putting themselves in harm’s way to prevent animal poaching. After approximately one dozen suspected Islamist militants from a neighboring country were spotted riding motorcycles into the W National Park in Northern Benin. The radicals were seen to have been armed with AK-47 assault rifles when the park rangers raced to save the lives of the animals that know W National Park as home.
The park director and two senior park rangers were able to call anti-poaching units to pursue the men from the safety of their operations room at their base. An un-dated park report said they could also disclose to Benins’ forces where to position their troops and deployed an airplane and helicopter belonging to the Park as part of a broader operation to surveil and “neutralize” the target. According to a confidential incident report reviewed by Reuters, the large group of motorcyclists soon fled to Nigeria.
Defense against poaching gets assessed by the anti-poaching force. The group takes each interaction against poaching, evaluates them, and recommends how to improve further collaboration among rangers, army, and police, including creating a “rapid intervention/commando unit capable of responding to multiple threats and especially those linked to terrorism.”
The governments of Benin and Rwanda have committed funds to their parks. However, African Parks often get funded by the European Union and private organizations and will not charge for their services. The Parks provide equipment and training to rangers who periodically get confronted with highly armed insurgents, militias, and poachers.
When asked about the actions taken out by his team, African Parks’ Chief Operations Officer Charles Wells urged that rangers’ efforts were consistent with the group’s mandate of “ensuring park integrity and countering all threats to it.”
However, when does a Park Ranger’s job get taken over by either the police or the anti-poaching force? Since December, there have been several attacks in northern Benin, including two suspected of having been from al Qaeda-linked militants in February. Four rangers got killed. When addressing the ‘above and beyond’ procedures park rangers have to take on in Africa, Wells concluded, “There might be such a line in a simplistic and ideal world. In reality, this is indeed blurred.”