The United States is reportedly deciding whether to provide African authorities with intelligence and training to aid in their fight against rampant wildlife crime.
The plan was hinted in an interview with Terrance Ford, the national intelligence manager for Africa in the office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Ford said the United States is seeking opportunities where it can contribute to Africa’s struggle with poaching.
“We have a role to play in this, so we are trying to do that,” Ford said.
According to Ford, the United States could provide African governments with satellite imagery and other technology to track poachers and herds of animals. America could also train wildlife rangers on strategies used by U.S. intelligence officers and provide them with better equipment.
According to Ford, America’s experience in counter-terrorism gives it a unique insight in how to combat poachers and traffickers, since wildlife criminals operate similar to the militant organizations the U.S. has hunted down in the years following 9/11.
United States has learned to track the movement of weapons and drugs sold by militants, and that can be translated to Africa tracing a rhino horn or elephant tusk and capturing the criminals involved.
The United States’ interests in reducing poaching aren’t entirely altruistic. There has been increasing focus on using the American intelligence community to crack down on wildlife trafficking for years, as evidence emerges that the trade can fund terrorist groups and radical militias.
A fiscal 2016 defense bill from the House committee urged the use of American intelligence to keep tabs on criminal organizational that tap into the sale of ivory and other illegal animal parts.
To that end, the United States has taken an increasingly vocal stance against poaching, including publicly destroying a ton of ivory in New York’s Times Square in June.
Regardless of motives, authorities recognize the urgent need to address the African poaching epidemic. As many as 40,000 African elephants were killed by poachers in 2011, while 1,200 rare white rhinoceros were killed in 2014 in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, compared to just 13 in 2007.
Scientists warn that unless radical steps are taken, African elephants and rhinos could be extinct in less than two decades.
Ford says the United States can help guard these animals, but it also has to go on the offensive against the poachers, traffickers, and buyers, otherwise the criminals will simply adjust to target unprotected wildlife.
“Unless you realize it’s a network, you don’t try to tackle the network,” Ford said. “If it’s an issue of safeguarding this water hole, they just go to another.”