Hunted hunter

Hunted hunter

When Nir Kalron, a former Israeli special forces soldier, learned that elephants could soon become extinct in Africa, he recruited intelligence agents and began defending the herds. He hooked up the jungle with cameras, fought poachers, and worked to train the army of rangers.

In January 2012, a “coup squad” of around 50 armed men on horseback and equipped with Kalashnikov rifles, mortars and machine guns, infiltrated Bouba Njida, one of the largest national parks in the Central African country of Cameroon.

Elephant families in a muddy clearing were on a typical day. Some pushed their trunks to the ground to search for water. The little ones were lying next to their parents. Others enthusiastically greeted other elephants they had not seen in some time.

Suddenly a shot. A small elephant fell to the ground. Poachers know that if they shoot a young elephant, the adults gather protectively rather than flee.

What followed was a massacre. The submachine guns injured and killed the rest of the elephants. Those still alive felt the sharp blades of machetes cut through their fangs. Later, his fangs were removed and small round pieces cut from his ears, a common "winners" trophy.

A local resident heard the shots and called authorities, but it was too late. The poachers had mounted their horses and set out in search of another herd. A military force hit them three months later with 650 dead elephants and after a shootout they were expelled.

Years of research have marked a likely course for ivory, from the beaches of Africa to transit cities like Hong Kong. The Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and the United States are the main markets for ivory, but China is the largest.

In China, ivory is an accessible status symbol, used for everything from decorations to chopsticks. Some ground ivory into powder for its medicinal qualities, a practice that prompted poachers to hunt the West African black rhino to extinction.

Today an elephant is killed every 15 minutes, or between 30,000 to 40,000 a year. Researchers say that the elephant population in countries like Tanzania has plummeted by as much as 60% in the last ten years.

Meanwhile, in China the price of ivory has doubled and tripled to $ 3,000 a pound. Two fangs can cost more than $ 200,000. Hunters make about $ 200 per pound, but for criminal organizations in poverty in Africa, that's a lot.

The trade also finances terrorist organizations such as al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda ally, and the terrorist group of the "Lord's Resistance Army" led by Joseph Kony, who claims that kidnapping follows the divine word, raping, torturing and murdering people. thousands of people across the continent, including children recruited to serve as warriors in his army.

When the Israeli command NIR Kalron withdrew, the park arrived, but the elephants had already left.

"Not even half an elephant, it was just a dead park," he said.

Kalron had originally come to Africa with an Israeli security contractor who trained military instructors for foreign armies. It was found in some of the worst conflicts in Africa, in countries like Burundi and Burkina Faso. He saw wounded, bleeding, desperate soldiers with amputated limbs, and 13-year-olds with rifles.

Seeing the military agreements behind the various conflicts left him more confused. "You don't always know where they are and what interests they are really serving."

Moral ambiguity weighed on him. She abandoned.

Then in 2008, he had the opportunity to do something clearly good for an old family friend, Dr. Bill Clark, one of the founders of Interpol's environmental crime group. When he was a boy, Kalron would ask the doctor to take him on safari.

"Then one day he called me and said, 'Come on, we need to train someone as a park ranger in Kenya,'" Kalron said.

Clark had no money to pay him, but Kalron didn't care. It was an opportunity to do good in Africa. It would also turn into a grim education on why rangers need AK-47 assault rifles to protect elephants and giraffes.

The stories the rangers told him made his stomach turn. "Here we had a fight, there we had three casualties, here someone was bleeding to death," Kalron said.

Kalron soon developed a deep need to protect the wildlife of Africa. It led him to start a company to carry out intelligence operations crucial to that effort. He called it Maisha, which is Swahili for "life."

Kalron brought two critical skills to Maisha Consulting: the ability to carry out surveillance through cost-effective implements and the ability to recruit informants in the field.

Since taking on his new mission, he has been in shootouts with poachers, installed solar camera grilles and satellite transmitters in forests and jungles, and recruited supporters and informants to help him gather information.

"The idea was that if we used our military wisdom and knowledge, we could save some elephants," Kalron said.

Kalron was joined by Barak de Omer, a graduate of Unit 8200, an intelligence unit for Israel's elite signal.

Kalron and Barak have known each other since kindergarten. Kalron grew up in a military family: his father an attack helicopter pilot and his brother a commando fighter. Barak's family was in the intelligence business.

"Ever since he met Kalron, he always had to fight someone," Barak said.

Another key member of the team is Remi, a former French special forces soldier who works with Kalron in the field.

Kalron used his own money to finance projects. He also recruited his future wife, Melody Sucharewicz, and a German shepherd from Senegal.

The group got a pro bono boost from remote sensing expert Dr. Arik Rosenfeld.

Job first understood the situation. Barack was the mainstay on the intelligence side and recruited other former military intelligence officers.

A new chief of police

At the end of 2012, the first serious trial of the new company arrived in Garamba, a nature reserve in the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Home to about 3,000 elephants.

Kalron and his men were trained as rangers in the park, which was infested with rebels and hunters. Two months earlier, a battle with heavily armed men in the Kony LRA left the rangers too frightened and they abandoned their headquarters.

While Kalron remained there to train, the sound of a gunshot in the night led the rangers to find two dead giraffes and a slaughtered elephant.

"We realized that the hunters had probably mistakenly taken a GPS collar from one of the giraffes and were heading towards the border with Sudan," Kalron said.

He recruited UN forces and the Congolese army to join the persecution.

"I found myself as if it were a joke, sitting with a Guatemalan colonel, a Bangladeshi operations officer, a French intelligence officer, a Congolese colonel and a Spanish park administrator, talking about the possibility that these are the LRA," he recalled. the.

With the help of the GPS signal, they set up an ambush. The goal was to show rangers that a larger operation was possible and expose poachers who would face consequences for their crimes.

“We were 60 people against 5 to 6 hunters. The UN and the Congolese army led the maneuver ”.

The poachers escaped less than 300 meters before the shooting began. One of the soldiers was beaten.

They eventually launched mortars at the poachers, who nonetheless crossed the border unharmed.

“It was a failed battle in terms of tactics. The assault was only carried out in four languages, and each person has different trainings, ”Kalron said.

However they did, they showed the poachers that there were new strategies in the field.

A few months later, some 900 miles west of Garamba, another challenge presented itself.

A coup in the Central African Republic had left young fighters belonging to the Seleka rebel forces running across the country.

They stole cars, guns and police radios and raided the offices of the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park. The frightened rangers ran into the forest, leaving Colonel Ismail Bachit to take command of the park and a nearby town.

He was a pastor, according to the media. Now he walked around in a beret and sunglasses, protected by armed bodyguards.

In May 2013 a month later, a truck with 20 armed men arrived at the park. Bachit allowed them in, and over the next two days, the men killed about 30 elephants.

Hired by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to deploy there, Kalron arrived 10 days after the massacre. Bachit did not let him near the scene. It took 200 kilograms of food and some warnings about international sanctions, but Kalron managed to get in.

"I tried to instill confidence," Kalron said.

Once inside, they found elephants full of Iranian bullets, the same bullets from the Bouba Ndjida massacre.

"We had been finding these caps everywhere, something bad had happened."

After negotiations, they managed to install an early warning system to better protect the park. Today, WWF says it is one of the few places in Africa where elephant poaching is rare.

Photo: Nir Kalron on his way leads his team into the jungle to install satellite transmitters and cameras.

Behind the massacre

Kalron said that in Kenya, for example, poaching is fueled by unemployment as high as 40% and there is a huge population of young men with about 900,000 illegal firearms.

"When I take a hunter out of this cycle, there are 800 more to take his place," Kalron said.

The solution is to train the rangers so they can be effective in the field, Kalron said. That means joining them on the ground, and sometimes in battle.

At least now the rangers have some idea what's happening out of sight.

Kalron's company has placed solar cameras and satellite transmitters in trees to provide power-free video and live communications when feeding elephants in the area. The cameras now allow rangers to gather information in real time and document events that may have been missed. The technology is cheap and effective.

The company also conducts investigations on multiple levels, from questioning merchants to developing relationships with informants. The latter are critical, he said. Now, if they find out that the hunters are smuggling rhino horn from Mozambique, they can stop them in Kenya through a network of contacts.

It takes a phone call. We have become a coordinating mechanism and source of intelligence for existing investigations, "said Kalron.

Kalron has also recruited some high-profile aides.

Green Prince's Animal Trainer

Sucharevich, Kalron's wife, met Mosab Hassan Yousef in Germany. Yousef is the son of one of the leaders of the Hamas terror organization in Gaza and was a key source of information for Israel for almost a decade.

Through Yousef, Sucharevich recruited former Israeli security agent Gonen Ben-Yitzhak, the agent who convinced Yousef to work for Israel.

Soon Kalron and Ben-Yitzhak were flying together to Africa to a park in eastern Congo.

“I found out that a local underground group controls the park. So we started giving people who work on park conservation a private investigation course, ”Ben-Yitzhak said.

"For me the objective, initially, was to understand the territory and have an idea of ​​what Africa is, and then follow the hunting chain."

Hunters come from various places, Kalron said. They can be inspectors of nature reserves who have left their positions or of local villagers. Some are sophisticated groups of well-armed Sudanese or Somali who belong to some terrorist group.

“In Garamba, there was a case where a Ugandan military helicopter killed 20 elephants. Someone paid $ 100,000 and asked for half a ton [of ivory], "Kalron said.

The exchange

A November 2014 report from the London-based independent Environmental Investigation Agency traced the ivory trade in Tanzania through arrests and investigations.

It found the ivory trade route from the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania to markets in China to be the "largest conduit for illegal ivory in the world."

Tanzanian police arrested three Chinese nationals in 2013 who possessed 706 ivory tusks, weighing almost 2 tons. The trio had planned to hide it in secret compartments in a minibus and drive it to the port for eventual sale in China. A former Chinese consulate official in Tanzania was one of those arrested.

A month later, a Chinese naval vessel arrived at the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania en route to China. It was ostensibly detained for anti-piracy activities.

But for more than four days, the naval ship was loaded with tons of ivory, according to a local merchant who was captured. He revealed a deal he made to sell $ 50,000 worth of ivory to the crew. Another trader was intercepted bringing 81 tusks weighing 670 pounds onto the ship.

The Environmental Investigation Agency reported that as early as 2006, Chinese embassy staff were the main buyers of ivory. Some use high-level state visits to buy ivory and take it back to China, helped by the fact that their luggage is not checked at the airport.

But while it is illegal to ship ivory, in China it is legal to sell it.

Investigators found that four Chinese state-owned companies have purchased dozens, if not hundreds of tons of ivory. The state-owned companies then sell the ivory to Chinese companies and artists who have permission from the authorities to legally sell a certain amount of ivory.

The remainder is used for "gifts to the political and business elite that are not considered bribery in China," the report said.

Kalron once attended a conference where a senior Chinese police official complained that he had no manpower to search for millions of African containers. Kalron says it is strange that Chinese law allows ivory to be sold in China, although it is illegal to ship it there.

Ben-Yitzhak was more forceful in his assessment of China's role in the extinction of African elephants.

“While the Western world is trying to preserve this wonderful place called Africa, China comes in and deals a fatal blow to these efforts. We are close to having no more elephants, ”said Ben-Yitzhak.

In October 2015, a Chinese official promised that within a year the regime would ban the ivory trade. If the ban becomes effective, strict enforcement will be required to stop the exchange of black market trading.

The Epoch Times

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