With 193 rhinos killed by poachers in the first half of the year, South Africa is on track to set a sad record in 2011. If left unchecked, rhino poaching totals could break an all-time high of 333 rhinos killed in the country in what was a very bloody 2010.
Among those trying to stem the rising tide of poaching in Africa is David Hubbard, a resident agent in charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who recently returned from teaching a course on wildlife criminal investigations at the State Department’s International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Gaborone, Botswana. Now in its 10th year, the two-week FWS program provides training for African law enforcement and wildlife officers on everything from endangered species law to investigative skills and evidence handling procedures.
Hubbard explained that the participants are taught how to work with informants, how to use different sources of information, how to conduct surveillance, how to conduct undercover operations and raids, etc. The FWS course was first offered at the ILEA Botswana campus in 2002 and has been completed by more than 300 students from 14 sub-Saharan African countries and is in heavy demand, according to J.O. Smith, ILEA Botswana academy director.
Recent estimates blame illegal hunting for a nearly 10 percent decrease in the sub-Saharan elephant population each year. One of the hardest things to teach academy participants is that the best way to stem the tide isn’t necessarily by stopping the poacher from pulling the trigger. Hubbard says the big problem is the market. To find out where the money is going and how the product is moved, the poacher needs to be followed.
The black market trail most often leads to organized crime in China and Southwest Asia where rhino horns are valued in traditional medicines. In terms of total dollars spent around the globe, the wildlife black market is the 2nd largest black market next to the drug trade. Presently, an average-sized rhino horn will eventually collect about a quarter of a million dollars on the black market. But the poacher who originally killed a rhino for its horn may only make about $100 in the deal. “We’re not telling [our ILEA students] not to catch the poacher, but you need to work it from that point on,” Hubbard said. “You need to see what border it’s crossing. That involves working with your neighbors, working with INTERPOL and all their international partners to work this case to an end.”