Intelligence is increasingly referred to in the wildlife sector, but is it clearly understood and the most effective method of wildlife protection?

Intelligence-Led Law Enforcement (ILLE) originated from the necessity for policemen to focus on using informants and surveillance techniques to combat repeat offenders.  The reactive focus on crime was no longer working in community policing, particularly in the UK. Police were spending too much time responding to specific incidents, but by increasing the use of intelligence methods, they used resources more efficiently and became more effective in fighting crime.

ILLE is also known as Intelligence-Led Policing (ILP) and was not a major proponent of policing styles until the September 11th terrorist attacks in the USA.  Prior to this crisis most government branches would generally not share information. Fortunately, it is now advocated by leading police associations in North America, the UK and worldwide.

A common perceived misconception is that the ‘intelligence’ is the gathering of information.  Analyzing information through computer software only simplifies data, but must be analyzed by a trained analyst to be considered true ‘intelligence’. Close cooperation between police chiefs and intelligence analysts facilitates the ILP strategy to effectively impact the criminal environment.

Ivory Seizure. Credit: NTSCIU

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 he was responsible for and decided to recruit assistance and support from a small military unit from the SA Intelligence corps stationed at Bushbuckridge in the Lowveld at the time.

This unit provided a higher level of ‘firepower’ to enable the arrest of local crime leaders who were otherwise too protected and powerful for the local ranger team to arrest. “Spies” were recruited within the communities, local businesses and within the protected areas staffing teams. In so doing, community collaborators, conservation authorities, military and to a lesser extent local police, worked together to build cases on up-line poachers and team leaders and arrest them once there was sufficient intelligence to ensure a clear case. Patrols and roadblocks became far less predictable to poachers and were usually based on intelligence and a lot of the work and information gathering was conducted outside of the protected areas.

The result of the strategy adopted was that this team, based at Bushbuckridge, more than doubled the previous record 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, multi-agency 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.

Tanzania’s national decline in elephants has slowed by an estimated two thirds since 2015, compared with the annual averages of the preceding six years. The decrease is principally because of the ILP strategy effectively employed throughout Tanzania.

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. To single out a few results produced by the NTSCIU over the last 3 years, one can see some internationally unparalleled achievements.

Ivory Queen off to court. Credit: NTSCIU

1,398 poachers and illegal ivory traders were arrested, of which over 250 were in major cities, demonstrating that the war has been taken to the ring-leaders in the cities.  Over 850 firearms and 40 vehicles used in ivory poaching were confiscated.  4 of the biggest ever illegal ivory traders were arrested, including Yang Feng Glan the notorious Queen of Ivory, and Boniface Matthew Mariango, also known as “The Devil”.  84% of those that have reached trial have been convicted, with the rest either in custody awaiting trial or turned state’s witness; 65 offenders have been given prison sentences from 16 years to 40 years.

PAMS Foundation has 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 remarkable 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.

4 men, including 2 police officers, convicted for possession of 14 pieces of ivory. Credit. Malawi Police

Whilst Malawi’s sentences are not yet as high as in Tanzania, it is a big step in the right direction. As recently as early last year, $40 was the previous average fine for ivory trafficking and there were no prison sentences for Police. Cooperation and information sharing between Tanzania and Malawi is paying off.

Wayne Lotter, co-founder of PAMS Foundation comments, “The Public Private Partnership (PPP) between Malawi Police Services and Lilongwe Wildlife Trust (LWT) has been performing remarkably well considering how relatively short it has been functional. It really is proving to be the best model for combatting the illegal wildlife trade in source countries, with measurable improvements being shown within months wherever it is implemented”.

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.”

Tommy continues, “These cases are further examples of the hard work and collaboration between government agencies and supporting NGO’s that are working together to tackle wildlife crime in Malawi.”

Similar PPP’s are also being established elsewhere with unprecedented results being achieved. i.e. Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Ugandan Conservation Foundation and in Zambia with the Wildlife Crime Prevention Project supporting the Department of National Parks and Wildlife.

The groups leading in this field are in general agreement that success is not automatic and largely dependent on operating per core tenets that they have in common. Best practice advocates specialized and dynamic decision-making under four principles. Firstly, it is critically important to ensure the integrity of leadership. This takes time, extensive local knowledge and mutual trust. Secondly, there should be as few parties involved as possible and only as many as necessary. As the saying goes, “loose lips sink ships”. The third principle is that all those involved should be performance-driven, regularly assessed and held accountable. PPP is ideal for this. Lastlyorganizational structure and mandated priority is much less important than having the right and well-motivated individuals with sufficient authority in place to implement ILP.

At recent expert workshops held in London on ILP in combating the illegal wildlife trade, a topical issue was that it can also be a double-edged sword and cut deeply the wrong way if best practice principles are not observed. Some of the risks to avoid can come from growing too big and too quickly due to successes achieved and the publicity surrounding it. The tenets and principles must be adhered to and due diligence applied, because non-specialists with huge budgets are too easily led astray or corrupted. If there are too many people working on a project it becomes counter-productive to introduce the intelligence-led approach. If integrity of the program and the team is not assured, it endangers the specialists working on sensitive operations and favors criminals. Unproven and non-vetted leaders and units can cause more damage than good and exacerbate illegal wildlife trade rather than reduce it. There was consensus that donor money placed in the wrong hands, regardless of position or their official responsibility in government, is far worse than a situation of too little or even no funding and hence it is preferable to not contribute any donor money to projects that are not led by people of known good integrity.

There are some outstanding cases of serious wildlife population collapses in projects and protected areas that are extremely well financed, but not properly planned and lead. There is an inherent danger of a large, corporate-style ‘mass production’ of the ILP concept being rapidly reproduced and rolled out on a broad scale that neglects the fundamental principles and leads to further serious disasters.

Despite the risks and dangers of ILP, various parties that have been supporting the intelligence-led strategy financially regard it as the most effective way to protect wildlife. David Bonderman’s Wildcat Foundation is the principal donor of PAMS Foundation and the NTSCIU and were the first major benefactor to finance the intelligence-led elephant protection work in Tanzania.

“The Wildcat Foundation has supported scores of wildlife projects across Sub-Saharan Africa, and we have consistently found the most effective approach to reducing poaching is intelligence-led enforcement through a well-managed PPP model,” says Rodger Schlickeisen.

Other prominent funders and substantial in kind supporters of the ILP movement and highly successful initiatives in combating the IWT include the Liz Claiborne-Art Ortenberg Foundation, Vulcan Foundation, Oak Foundation, Save The Elephants, US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Environmental Investigation Agency. Increasingly more countries and NGO’s are beginning to adopt and support the replication of this strategy.

Alexandra Kennaugh of the esteemed Oak Foundation states, “Intelligence-led enforcement is a cornerstone of Oak Foundation’s funding strategy because we believe it is a critical element in curbing the illegal killing of elephants and rhinos.”

The groups who are implementing ILP and applying best practice principles are truly leading the way in terms of turning the tide on poaching.

 Case Study: Game Reserve in the Greater Kruger complex, South Africa.

Significant challenges are facing smaller game reserves and conservancies where they are often expected to cover exorbitant costs to secure the integrity of their reserves.

Intelligence-led operations are without doubt a very attractive option in the suite of tools available to protected area managers.

A major breakthrough was made during January 2017 at one of the private game reserves situated within the Greater Kruger National Park complex with the apprehension of a significant syndicate of six poachers, a heavy calibre rifle fitted with a silencer and the confiscation of a vehicle. The reserve’s relatively small rhino population was targeted and hit hard several times during the past few years by armed poachers. Part of the then counter poaching strategy was, among other, the use of infrared cameras placed at strategic points along the electrified security fence, to be used as an early warning detection system.

This specific breakthrough incident that was arranged within just weeks of soliciting the specialized expertise required, through the PAMS Foundation network, and highlights the importance and value of an extremely well organized intelligence driven operation. Without the proactive services and results obtained from this highly efficient and progressive approach, no doubt we would continue to be counting more carcasses.


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Lindy Taverner is the director a TOM Productions, a PR and online marketing agency based in Cape Town, South Africa. She has specialized in elephant conservation over the last five years, including production of a documentary, fundraising events and managing online media presence for various conservation NGOs.

Peter Scott is a protected area management specialist with a Masters degree and 28 years’ experience in environmental and wildlife management practices.

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