International anti-poaching unit trains Swazi cops, rangers

2016-04-07 16:06

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Mbombela - A new international unit is fighting poaching wars in the Royal Kingdom of Swaziland.

The newly established Endangered Species Protection Agency (ESPA) is a training entity manned by highly qualified and trained former members of the British and US Special Forces.

They have been quietly involved in the training of an anti-poaching unit comprising game rangers and a specialist group of the Royal Swazi Police, in the war against rhino poaching in the neighbouring country.

"The protection of endangered species includes rhino, but it is not limited to them. It also includes elephant, gorilla, orangutan and the tiger. The ESPA has no political allegiances and is solely committed to the preservation of endangered species," said ESPA spokesperson Martin Hewitt.

Hewitt, a former officer of Her Majesty's 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment, told a News24 correspondent that Operation Alpha was working with Swaziland's Big Game Parks (BGP).

Effective war against poaching

BGP's head of conservation and security, Mick Reilly, said rhino poaching was a widespread threat in Southern Africa.

"I believe that there is no longer any such thing as a safe rhino. This pre-historic species is now entirely dependent on humans for its continued existence. This training is one of the crucial and commendable roles that organisations such as ESPA can perform to assist Africa’s conservation agencies in this life and death stand off," said Reilly.

When News24 spoke to the head of special projects at South African National Parks, Major-General Johan Jooste, he had not heard of this specialised anti-poaching unit.

"It is true that our effective war against poaching in the Kruger [is] forcing poachers to look for other targets and Reilly’s doing the right thing by not waiting for the incursions to happen before doing something about it. I would like to meet this team," said Jooste.

During Operation Alpha, ESPA offered three different types of services: Physical training and the management of crime scenes, operational support and investigation.

The investigation aspect includes infiltrating criminal syndicates, forensic science and bringing culprits to book. 

Read more on:    swaziland  |  conservation  |  rhino poaching  |  southern africa

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