Intelligence is increasingly referred to in the wildlife sector, but is it clearly understood and the most effective method of wildlife protection?
Intelligence-Led Policing (ILP) originated from the necessity in community policing to focus on using informants and surveillance techniques to combat repeat offenders, as the reactive focus on crime was not effective enough. ILP is also known as Intelligence-Led Law Enforcement (ILLE) and was not a major part of policing styles until after the September 11th terrorist attacks in the USA.
ILP has recently been adopted into combating wildlife crime. Without it being labelled as that at the time, the basic principles of ILP and multi-agency wildlife protection were applied in South Africa as early as 1987. As a very young ranger in charge of natural resource protection for the then Department of Development Aid in South Africa, Wayne Lotter and his team of game scouts employed the basics of what would now be classified as intelligence-led anti-poaching.
Lotter was trained by a former police detective in how to investigate crimes, maximize the use of witnesses and prepare case dockets. He developed an extensive informant network in and around the three small protected areas and was responsible for recruiting assistance and support from a small military unit from the SA Intelligence corps stationed at Bushbuckridge in the Lowveld at the time. The result of the strategy adopted was that this team more than doubled the previous record of annual number of arrests as well as convictions achieved by any other group within the Department.
Similarly, when the PAMS Foundation started the Ruvuma Elephant Project (REP) in Tanzania in 2011, it was evident that conventional approaches were not going to be the answer. Despite significant donor funded projects having provided substantial funding and equipment leading up to that time, the poaching situation was way out of control and it appeared impossible to stop.
Around the period there was an average of more than one elephant carcass recorded per day. A truly intelligence-led, multiagency strategy was adopted and within a few months’ impressive results were being achieved and the rate of poaching decreased. This trend continued and further improved (Lotter & Clark, 2014) until today. During 2016 there were only two elephant carcasses recorded for the entire year.
In 2014 PAMS Foundation elicited the involvement of the crack National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU) in 2014. It was a game changer in every ecosystem they worked. PAMS also supported the establishment of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism’s Wildlife and Forestry Crime Unit (WFCU), which has been operating closely with the NTSCIU and jointly they have been achieving internationally unparalleled results.
David Hubbard, Special Agent in Charge of Law Enforcement at USFWS, believes, “The intelligence-led multi-agency work of the NTSCIU and MNRT Wildlife Crime Unit is an example of an effective strategy that should be followed across Africa, and potentially in parts of Asia too.”
Malawi’s law enforcement agencies are also using the same model as the NTSCIU, leading intelligence-led operations targeting buyers and high level traders in urban areas, followed by thorough and professional case preparation and prosecution.
Tommy Mhango from Lilongwe Wildlife Trust says, “For too long in Malawi, you could expect to walk away from court with a nominal fine if you were convicted of illegal wildlife trade. Nowadays it is not just poachers but also traffickers that run the risk of being locked up in Malawi’s prisons for many years. The government and judiciary are to be commended on how they have handled recent challenging cases involving high level traders and government officials.”
ILP success is not automatic, as it is critically important to follow best practice principles to ensure the integrity of leadership, have as few parties involved as possible and all partners should be performance-driven, regularly assessed and held accountable. There are serious risks involved from growing too big too quickly due to successes achieved and the surrounding publicity.