Can mercenary management stop poaching in Africa?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1999:
GENEVA, HARARE, JOHANNESBURG,
NAIROBI––The Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species on February 10 authorized Namibia and
Zimbabwe to sell 34 metric tons of stockpiled elephant tusk
ivory to Japan, as agreed by CITES members at the June 1997
CITES triennial meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe.
CITES withheld permission for Botswana to sell up
to 25 metric tons of ivory, pending improvement of security
arrangements including protection of wild elephants from
poachers, but the government of Botswana was optimistic,
according to the Pan-African News Service, that it too would
soon get the go-ahead.
Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana hope to collect
from $100,000 to $200,000 a ton for the ivory, which is used in
Japan for making ceremonial signature seals. Such seals are
customarily used in finalizing contracts.
The ivory to be sold comes from culled “problem”
elephants and stocks seized from poachers. Ivory poachers
have reportedly escalated activity across much of Africa since
June 1997, in evident anticipation of the chance to smuggle
ivory disguised as part of the forthcoming legal sales––the first
since CITES banned international ivory trafficking in 1989.
Kenya Wildlife Service director Richard Leakey
called the CITES decision “very retrogressive,” but World
Wildlife Fund spokesperson John Newby lauded it as a demonstration
to Africans that elephants are “a valuable resource and
not just a pest.”
Leakey’s defense of elephants against all hunting and
poaching is forcefully challenged by Festus Mwangi Kinujuri,
member of the Kenyan parliament for Laikapia East. In late
January, as the anticipated ivory sale go-ahead was pending,
Kinujuri told a protest rally crowd of 500 that he would give
poisoned arrows to villagers so that they could kill elephants
who harm crops in the Mount Kenya area. The area includes
Sweetwaters Tented Camp, one of Kenya’s top tourist attractions.
In South Africa, Kruger National Park director David
Mabunda moved swiftly to head poachers off at the auction
block by announcing, on March 15, a resumption of lethal elephant
culling, suspended since 1995. The current Kruger elephant
population is to be cut from 8,300 to 7,500, and two districts
termed “botanical reserves” are to be cleared of elephants.
South Africa did not apply to sell ivory at the June
1997 CITES meeting, but did seek unsuccessfully to sell stockpiled
rhino horn, and supported the applications to sell ivory
from Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.
Mozambique agriculture minister Carlos Agostinho
do Rosario on March 23 announced that he would soon introduce
a draft bill to “allow elephant hunting for sport in places
where thereis an excess,” ostensibly to protect crops.
Mozambique has banned elephant hunting since 1990, but
remains a reputed center of illegal ivory trafficking.
Test of nations
Whether the ivory sales will jeopardize African elephant
populations depends, all observers seem to agree, upon
how effectively African nations combat poaching.
What most seem loathe to admit, however, is that
combatting poaching is a test of national stability capable of
challenging every government in Africa.
Whether the poachers’ targets are elephants, rhinos,
gorillas, chimpanzees, lions, leopards, or hooved animals,
African poaching problems tend to have a definite political
dimension. Poaching profits are integrally involved in both
efforts to keep governments in power and to overthrow them.
Kes Hillman Smith, for instance, conservation ecologist
at Garamba National Park in the northeastern part of the
Democratic Republic of the Congo, warned in late January
1999 that poaching associated with ongoing civil wars in both
the Congo and Sudan may kill the last wild white rhinos.
“In November 1998 alone,” Hillman Smith told
London Daily Telegraph reporter David Blair, “there were 11
armed contacts between poachers and guards in the rhino sector.”
There were then just 25 white rhinos left in Garamba,
down from 1,300 circa 1970.
This is business as usual in the Congo. The late dictator
Mobuto Sese Soto was a member of the World Wildlife
Fund’s 1001 Club for billionaire patrons––and reputedly ruled
the Congo, which he called Zaire, by managing elephant
poaching as a virtual concession from 1965 until his 1993
departure into well-cushioned exile. Mobuto supporters reportedly
killed 50,000 elephants for ivory during the last five years
of his regime, stashing the take in Swiss banks.
The Congo situation was not unique:
• Anti-Israeli guerillas reportedly funded themselves
by selling ivory and rhino horn during the 1980s, and maybe
• The Renamo rebel army active in Mozambique during
the 1980s reportedly killed tens of thousands of elephants,
trading their tusks for South African-supplied armaments.
Former Renamo members still at large are
believed to be responsible for ongoing poaching
throughout southern Africa.
• Displaced Rwandan militias probably
including those responsible for the March
1 kidnappings and massacre of eight tourists
and four wildlife guards in the Bwindi
Impenetrable National Park of Uganda tend to
support themselves by poaching as well as
armed robbery. Both are among the few economic
activities practiceable by armed bands
with no fixed address, few tools other than
weapons, and few if any job skills.
• Poaching is also a major source of
food and cash for squatters, who are increasingly
often just moving into wildlife reserves
and taking them over, frequently out of frustration
and despair at the slow pace of official
land redistribution. Since landless masses can
become a potent political force––especially if
armed––shaky African governments tend to
find leaving squatters in a reserve more expedient
than trying to oust them.
Because of the political dimension of
much of the poaching, the involvement of foreign
wildlife agencies and conservation charities
in para-military anti-poaching work also
tends to appear political, at least to many of
the people whose friends, families, and allies
may be in the line of government gunfire.
So-called shoot-to-kill anti-poaching
policies are now in disrepute, denied or disavowed
by every respondent to a questionaire
Carroll Cox of EnviroWatch sent in mid-1998
to more than 40 organizations which have
African wildlife programs.
Barely more than a decade ago,
however, with elephant and rhino poaching at
their zenith, shoot-to-kill was not only popular
with conservationists but almost unquestioned,
and hundreds of alleged poachers were killed.
Mid-1980s news reports indicate that
Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe and
Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi issued
almost simultaneous shoot-to-kill orders in
1984. South Africa, Botswana, Namibia,
and Zambia reputedly put less well documented
shoot-to-kill policies into effect.
In mid-1998, Zimbabwean officials
told Wilderness Conservancy founder and
president Robert Cleaves that the toll in firefights
against alleged poachers since 1984
stood at “fewer than 20 poachers killed,”
against “six game rangers killed in ambushes
set by poachers.”
But Zimbabwe earlier claimed to
have killed 40 poachers by mid-1988, and 160
through November 1993.
The Kenya Wildlife Service, during
Richard Leakey’s first tenure as director,
1988-1994, reportedly killed 130 poachers.
Both Leakey and Zimbabwean chief
warden of parks and wildlife management
Glen Tatham eventually ran into trouble over
shoot-to-kill––and both were widely seen as
having been set up to take the poltical heat for
the outcome of policies they did not create.
Tatham was in 1988 charged with
murder. Reported Patrick Nagle for Southam
News, “The man Tatham and his colleagues
were accused of murdering was the first native
Zimbabwean victim of the anti-poaching campaign,”
which had previously killed only
Zambian and Mozambiquan intruders.
The murder charge was later
dropped, and Zimbabwean wildlife law was
amended to extend game wardens’ authority to
use lethal force.
Shoot-to-kill, though raised, was a
minor factor in Leakey’s ouster. The primary
issue was conflict between Leakey and friends
and family of arap Moi, who were accused of
encroaching on protected lands. Some also
openly agitated for Kenya to legalize trophy
hunting. Leakey––who lost both legs in a
1993 airplane crash––emerged from the ouster
as arap Moi’s most popular political rival, and
didn’t back off even when a mob of arap Moi
supporters reportedly dragged him from his car
and beat him with whips.
After the Kenya Wildlife Service
markedly deteriorated under Leakey’s successor,
David Western, who tried to appease
arap Moi’s followers, arap Moi in mid-1998
put Leakey back in charge.
Whether or not shoot-to-kill policies
remain in effect, shooting incidents are part of
most branches of law enforcement, and are
most common on wildlife beats––both in
Africa and the U.S., where game wardens are
nine times more likely than inner city police to
be killed in the line of duty.
In just one recent 30-day interval:
• Namibian police on July 19, 1998
reportedly returned fire from Joseph Mukupi,
40, and Lubata Mungowe, 50, killing both,
as two other suspected poachers fled toward
the Botswana border about three miles away.
• Near Melmoth, KwaZulu-Natal,
South Africa, park rangers in late July found
the remains of three colleagues who were
ambushed and massacred by poachers.
• On August 14, 1998, also in
South Africa, a Mpumalanga Parks board
ranger reportedly caught a suspected
Mozambiquan and an accomplice in the act of
setting snares. The suspected Mozambiquan
swung a machete-like knife called a panga at
the ranger; the ranger shot him dead.
• Two days later, KwaZulu-Natal
soldiers and police shot 86 hunting dogs and
arrested 56 alleged poachers in breaking up an
alleged hunting party near the town of Muden.
Another 70-odd dogs ran away.
Northern KwaZulu-Natal has
become an especially dangerous territory, KZN
Agricultural Union president Fred Visser
warned in early March 1999, telling told
Ingrid Oellermann of the Johannesburg Star
that poaching-related violence could even
destroy the local game farming industry.
“Most of these private game farms
have lodges and they offer hunting to professional
hunters from overseas,” Visser
explained. “This will be destroyed.”
Visser asked for a more vigorous
police response. “It’s a war out there,” Visser
said. “We must strike back, somehow.”
But what non-Africans and South
Africans of European descent may see as only
protecting wildlife and livestock through the
existing state apparatus is easily interpreted by
many black Africans as actively assisting corrupt
oppressors––especially if all the shooting
victims are poor, or are refugees and rebels
fighting unpopular governments, or if too
many of them are from one particular tribe.
The current government of South
Africa, the first led by black executives, is
keenly aware of the political risks involved in
unleashing any kind of forceful response to
poaching which might be perceived as having
racial or tribal overtones.
Further, though Mozambiquans are
believed to be responsible for much poaching
in all surrounding nations, South Africa is in
an awkward position to point fingers: on
February 12, Mozambiquan police reportedly
seized a helicopter, two trucks, and a bulldozer
from three South Africans at a Chimoio-area
bush camp. The South Africans “allegedly
tried to herd and capture rare sable antelope
and other animals from surrounding game
reserves and state forests,” the Johannesburg
Mail & Guardian said. “Villagers also claim
to have seen the men herding sable antelope
out of the nearby Nguala reserve.”
IFAW in Africa
South Africa is the focal point of the
ongoing battle for influence between pro-hunting
and anti-hunting western-based conservation
organizations with an interest in African
wildlife. Their respective success tends to be
measured by the funding they convey to the
South African National Park Service and the
Endangered Species Protection Unit of the
South African Police Service.
The International Fund for Animal
Welfare in 1995 gained the advantage over trophy
hunters and ivory traffickers who wanted
to cull elephants in South African national
parks by contributing $1 million to habitat
expansion at the Addo Elephant National Park.
The gift brought the four-year suspension of
culling that is now at an end.
In 1998, IFAW confidentially committed
$460,000 to underwrite a South African
Police Service probe of elephant poaching and
law enforcement response capacity in 12
In November 1998, however, the
pro-hunting Rhino and Elephant Foundation
hired away former IFAW South African program
director Chris Styles, who disclosed the
deal––and touched off a media furor.
“Why is the wildlife unit of SAPS
taking money from an overseas organization
whose agenda is diametrically opposed to
South African wildlife management policies?”
demanded John Ledger, director of the prohunting
Endangered Wildlife Trust and, the
Cape Town Sunday Independent disclosed, “a
member of the ESPU Trust, a private sector
initiative which raises funds for the ESPU.”
IFAW policies may tend to contradict
the carry-overs from apartheid still prevailing
in South Africa, but openly so.
What anti-poaching projects funded
by pro-hunting organizations stand for hasn’t
always been very clear. Accountability seems
to have been weak––if there was any.
Old news clips describe at least one
and possibly two cases of helicopters being
donated to anti-poaching strike forces in southern
Africa during the late 1980s by private
foundations which apparently no longer exist.
One helicopter, funded by celebrities,
reportedly ended up with the Zimbabwean
wildlife department after prolonged disuse
due to legal entangements.
The hazy history of the other helicopter
indicates that it was donated via the
shadowy Operation Lock for use in the
Zambezi Valley, which could mean either
Zambia or Zimbabwe. ANIMAL PEOPLE
found no one able to explain who received it,
who used it, and what became of it.
Though the available information
indicates it was not the same helicopter
acquired by Zimbabwe, ANIMAL PEOPLE
was not able to firmly establish that, either.
World Wildlife Fund
Operation Lock was apparently the
first major privately funded African antipoaching
project, and may have been the most
sinister, not least because poachers may have
been among the major beneficiaries of it.
Many of the shortcomings of
Operation Lock were exposed in January 1991
by Stephen Ellis, of The Independent, a newspaper
published in London, England––but it
had already become the evident prototype for
other privately funded para-military efforts.
According to Ellis, “Operation Lock
was set up in 1987 by Prince Bernhard,” former
international president of the World
Wildlife Fund, “and John Hanks, then Africa
Programme Director of WWF. It aimed to
gather intelligence on the international trade in
rhino horn by infiltrating the market and buying
rhino horn to trace the dealers. The prince
donated £500,000 to fund the secret sting. But
it collapsed, with some horn and purchased
material unaccounted for.”
But Operation Lock wasn’t just a
sting, and wasn’t just a failure: it was a sting
subcontracted out for execution by alleged
mercenaries, with problematic links to some
subjects of the investigation.
“Prince Bernhardt agreed to fund the
operation,” Ellis continued, “in a private
capacity and on the strict condition that the
WWF should not be involved or even told
about it. But according to documents obtained
by The Independent, the WWF director-general,
Charles de Haes, knew from the start
about Dr. Hanks’ plans.”
“To implement Operation Lock,”
Ellis wrote, “Dr. Hanks commissioned KAS
Enterprises Ltd., whose chair was the late Sir
David Stirling, the founder of the Special Air
Services. Many of the KAS staff were former
members of the SAS. The initial aim was to
gather intelligence, but it developed into a
more ambitious project to employ former SAS
men for paramilitary anti-poaching work
throughout Southern Africa, and bought
equipment from the South African Defense
Force. At least £75,000 of Prince Bernhard’s
donation was used to buy rhino horn.”
As Ellis added, even then it was no
secret that “Many of the ivory and horn traffickers
in southern Africa” were “also known
to deal in drugs, weapons and ammunition,
sometimes with the conivance of senior officers
of the South African Defence Force.”
Craig Van Note, executive vice
president of the WWF subsidiary TRAFFIC,
outlined what WWF already knew in a mid-
1988 article for Earth Island Journal.
“The South African military,” Van
Note charged, “has cynically aided the virtual
annihilation of the once great elephant herds of
Angola. Jonas Savimbi and his UNITA rebel
forces in Angola, largely supplied by South
Africa, have killed perhaps 100,000 elephants
to help finance the 12-year-old conflict. Most
of the tusks have been carried out on South
African air transports or trucks, although some
move through Zaire and Burundi.”
If Bernhardt et al hoped to catch
crooks in the South African military with military
help, they were naive. Knowledge of the
Angolan operation went right to the top––as
was confirmed, after apartheid fell, by a 1995
judicial inquiry. The inquiry established that
South Africa formed a front company in 1977
to trade weapons to UNITA for ivory, and
only pretended to disband the firm in 1979.
Summarized Allan Thornton of the
London-based Environmental Investigation
Agency, “Trafficking during the apartheid era
was a formal or informal policy, at least on
the part of some elements in the government.”
KAS had many African projects.
“In Namibia,” Ellis wrote, “KAS
trained an anti-poaching team in mid-1989,
when South African forces were being demobilized
prior to independence elections. The
trainees almost certainly included members of
K o e v o e t, the South African counter-insurgency
unit. KAS also trained game wardens
for Mozambique inside South Africa.”
Bernhard and Hanks folded
Operation Lock in 1989; KAS reportedly collapsed
in 1990. But that wasn’t the end of
whatever was going on.
“Paramilitary training of game wardens
is continuing in South African tribal
‘homelands,’” Ellis added. “Some youths
have complained that after being recruited as
conservation officers, they have in fact been
trained as soldiers at secret military sites.”
African antipoaching projects sponsored
by the African Safari Club, Safari Club
International, African Wildlife Foundation,
and Friends of Conservation, with USAid support,
have largely escaped critical notice.
The apparent immunity of the Safari
Club work to scrutiny may change in light of a
July 1998 incident in Mozambique, involving
a hunting party led by Safari Club
International president Alfred S. “Skip”
Donau, preceding SCI president Lance Norris,
and Kenneth E. Behring, the former owner of
the Seattle Seahawks football team.
Behring had just donated $20,000 to
the city hospital in Pemba, Mozambique, capital
of Cabo Delgado province.
The trio killed three bull elephants,
including one of the largest on recent record.
According to Arizona Daily Star
reporter M. Scot Skinner, “The typewritten
permit [that Donau, Norris, and Behring had
to hunt in Mozambique] only gave permission
to kill a lion, a leopard, and a buffalo. The
permission to kill ‘problem elephants’ was
scrawled in Portuguese handwriting by a
provincial wildlife official,” identified by New
York Times reporter Tim Golden as Carlos
Investigators with the Humane
Society of the U.S.,” Skinner continued,
“contend the handwritten portion of the permit
was added after the elephants were killed and
after the $20,000 donation. The Donau party
also promised to help pay the local government
for the completion of a wild game survey.
The Safari Club donated $5,000 for that
effort, Donau said.”
Mozambique wildlife service chief
Arlito Cuco told Tim Golden that the elephant
killings were “illegal, because according to
the law in Mozambique, you cannot hunt for
sport,” and the elephants in question were not
problem elephants. (Cuco wasn’t quoted as to
whether the lion, leopard, and buffalo were
Responded Donau, to Skinner, “We
were told by the governor of the northern
province that four or five people had been
killed by elephants and that the elephants were
threatening some of the crops.”
The case came to light just as the
Smithsonian Institution prepared to open a
newly renovated Kenneth E. Behring Family
Hall of Mammals–funded with a $20 million
gift from Behring––and caught flak for having
obtained U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permission
for Behring to import the remains of
four rare species of wild sheep, among them
an endangered Kara-Tau argali.
According to Golden, “Robert S.
Hoffman, former director of the Natural
History Museum [at the Smithsonian] and now
a senior scientist at the museum, applied for
permits to import the four wild sheep Mr.
Behring shot in Kazakhstan and Kirgistan,”
within the former Soviet Union, “in
September 1997, just weeks before the final
discussions of his $20 million donation. The
gift was the largest in the 151-year history of
the Smithsonian. Export permits for the animals
were issued two days before CITES
enacted a decision to upgrade the Kara-Tau
argali to its most endangered category. The
other sheep are considered threatened.”
Despite the seriousness of the allegations,
however, both the Safari Club and the
Smithsonian have histories of getting away
with similar schemes––at taxpayer expense.
The Behring sheep incident parallels
a 1988 case in which the Smithsonian paid
more than $650,000 to defend biologist
Richard Mitchell, who had been borrowed
from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a
year. During that year, Mitchell’s most visible
activity was arranging an argali sheep hunt
for former Texas governor Clayton Williams,
his wife Modesta, and several companions.
This was not new work for Mitchell,
who founded the American Ecological Union
in 1984 to promote sport hunting in China,
with Safari Club help.
Mitchell, Williams, and friends
killed and imported the trophies from four
argali sheep. Charged with violating the
Endangered Species Act, Williams got the
case dropped, reportedly with help from U.S.
Senators Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and Pete
Wilson (R-Calif., now governor of
California), and Rep. Jack Fields (R-Texas).
Mitchell was in 1993 convicted of
illegally importing a urial sheep pelt, but was
fined just $1,000, served two years on probation,
and continued to review endangered
species trophy import applications for the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Scientific
Authority until June 1996.
Friends of Animals
African anti-poaching projects sponsored
by Friends of Animals, the Wilderness
Conservancy, and the Owens Foundation have
also run into recent trouble, some of which
may result from planted rumors.
FoA has supplied 21 U.S. military
surplus trucks, four trailers, and assorted field
equipment obtained via the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service and USAid to various African
nations since 1990––and in 1992 helped
France to transfer 50 AK-47 automatic rifles
and 10,000 rounds of ammunition captured
from Iraq during the Gulf War to the wildlife
protection department in Senegal. FoA also
sent custom-built spotter aircraft to the Ghana
Department of Wildlife in 1997, and to the
Kenya Wildlife Service in 1998.
The landing gear of the aircraft,
according to a June 1996 memo by FoA international
program director Bill Clark, were
designed “so an automatic rifle can be mounted
and fired under the propeller arc.” Such a
weapon might be used, Clark said, as “a
deterrent factor,” and to help encourage
poachers caught in the wild to surrender.
Clark, a former U.S. Marine, also
spends much time in Africa training antipoaching
forces. His position is influential
enough that on one visit to Ghana, he claims,
he was allowed to fly a Macchi 339 jet fighter
––not exactly a “Top Gun” aircraft, since it
flies at subsonic speed, but still the hottest
item in the Ghanian arsenal.
Clark’s role with FoA attracted separate
but parallel investigations by Natural
Resources News Service/National Defense
Monitor reporter Susanne Clarke and A N IMAL
PEOPLE, for two reasons.
One was that FoA in mid-1997
hired, then abruptly fired former U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service special investigator Carroll
Cox, for an alleged cause that FoA has yet to
clearly state. A memo from FoA president
Priscilla Feral to Cox, immediately preceding
the firing, demanded that he disclose to her
particulars of legal actions he had pursued
which according to Cox involved friends of
Bill Clark––acknowledged by Clark––who
hold senior positions at USFWS.
The other is that Bill Clark divides
his professional duties between his FoA post
and an FoA-funded position with the Division
of Law Enforcement within the Israeli Nature
and National Parks Protection Authority.
The advantage of Clark’s dual role
for FoA, explains FoA president Priscilla
Feral, is that Clark thereby enjoys access to
international law enforcement documents pertaining
to wildlife trafficking. A political ramification,
however, is that the Israeli agency is
also integrally involved in national defense:
the nature reserves it administrates may double
as no-man’s-land, including the strip of the
Judean desert that divides Israel from the
Palestinian-controlled West Bank.
Further, because anti-Israeli guerilla
activity has historically been funded by the
elephant and rhino horn traffic, Israel may
have an interest in such traffic which goes
beyond concern for conservation. Conversely,
even if opponents of Israel are no longer
involved in wildlife trafficking, conservation
could provide a pretext for maintaining surveillance
of their suspected strongholds.
In any event, nations with large
Islamic populations, in particular, could question
FoA motives for involvement in their
affairs, or in the affairs of hostile neighbors.
Questions about Bill Clark’s activity
increased after Suzanne Clarke, via the
Freedom of Information Act, obtained a
September 11, 1997 memo from White House
staffer Martha Wofford to higher-ups. The
memo suggested an alleged lack of “any sense
of uniformity in how we monitor” FoA, and
added that USAid deputy director of southern
African affairs Maureen Dugan “mentioned
that this same group actually killed someone
and were forced out of a country in southern
Africa––not sure which one.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE heard rumors
about the memo for months before managing
to get a copy. When we did, we recognized
the account referenced to Dugan as probably a
garbled version of allegations directed at the
Owens Foundation some months earlier. But
no one ever acknowledged as much. Neither
did USAid send Suzanne Clarke a correction
and retraction until September 1, 1998.
Meanwhile, on June 8, 1998, FoA
president Feral faxed to ANIMAL PEOPLE a
note alleging that Wildlife Conservancy president
Robert Cleaves “is a big hunter,” who
“asked someone (whose identity I’m not
revealing) to get him some trophy ivory back
into the U.S., and in exchange, he’d donate
an airplane to the [South African] Endangered
Species Protection Unit.”
Responded Cleaves, “I am not a
hunter and never have been. I have never shot
an animal, nor asked anyone to do it for me. I
would never shoot an animal except in selfdefense.
I have never asked anyone to ‘get
some trophy ivory back into the U.S.’” The
only part of the allegation that was true,
Cleaves said, was that he had offered to
donate “free use of a light observation aircraft
for use in ESPU anti-poaching operations.”
The offer was declined.
“It sounds to me as though someone
is trying to create a problem where none
exists,” Cleaves concluded.
Cleaves, states his web site resume,
“was a jet fighter pilot and test pilot 1950-
1986, first on active duty in the U.S. Air Force
and then on reserve duty as a deputy judge
advocate general. He represented President
Ronald Reagan at the transition of Rhodesia to
Zimbabwe in 1980, and later on in matters
relating to Angola during its civil war, and
was on President Reagan’s ‘short list’ as U.S.
Ambassador to South Africa.”
A cofounder of the International
Wilderness Leadership Foundation, Cleaves
“has been involved in conservation and antipoaching
in southern Africa since 1968,” the
web site adds. “WildCONS, of which
Cleaves is founder and president, operates
five aircraft in anti-poaching operations in
southern Africa,” specifically in Zimbabwe,
South Africa, and Zambia. The first of the
aircraft began service in 1990.
The WildCONS aircraft, Cleaves
stipulates, are not armed. WildCONS did,
however, donate 15 Ruger semi-automatic
rifles to South Africa anti-poaching forces.
“WildCONS lost two aircraft and
two good men in anti-poaching operations in
1992,” Cleaves recalls. “One was following a
snared black rhino who was pulling a heavy
log drag in the Ndumu Game Reserve in northern
Zululand. The other was confiscating
weapons and equipment hidden by poachers
on a farm near Mana Pools National Park in
the lower Zambezi valley of Zimbabwe.”
Flying three patrol missions from the
Ndumu reserve in August 1998, while on an
inspection visit, Cleaves personally gained a
measure of revenge during the second day.
“I spotted three men in the Tembe
Elephant Reserve carrying what I believed to
be an AK-47,” Cleves told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“I called their location to operations and
loitered until the ground team arrived and took
the three into custody. I then flew the short
distance to the Tembe airstrip and waited for
the team to walk the men out of the bush.
They not only had an AK-47, but also had the
anterior and posterior horns from an endangered
black rhino. They were making their
way toward safe haven across the
Cleaves, beyond clearing himself of
nasty charges, put in good words for Bill
Clark, who might have been presumed to be
Feral’s anonymous source, and emphatically
put his personal reputation behind wildlife
biologists Mark and Delia Owens, the
founders of the Owens Foundation.
U.S. citizens working in Africa since
1973, Mark and Delia Owens in their first
book, Cry of the Kalahari (1985) exposed the
deaths from starvation and thirst of thousands
of migrating wildebeests whose route through
Botswana was blocked by cattle fencing.
Botswanian leaders and international development
schemes were behind the fence-building.
Rousted from Botswana, Mark and
Delia Owens in 1986 relocated to Zambia.
There they formed the North Luanga
Conservation Project, an anti-poaching economic
development scheme. They helped
local villagers start a fish farm, a carpentry
shop, and a cooking oil press, and helped
equip and train the North Luanga game scouts.
Financial support came from the Frankfurt
Zoological Society and Prince Bernhardt, who
at the same time was funding Operation Lock.
Mark and Delia Owens may have
paid dearly for the Bernhardt/Operation Lock
association, by being in the same general theatre
of operations and by undertaking work
which was easily confused with that of the
KAS professional soldiers, whatever KAS
was doing and on behalf of whom.
According to Stephen Ellis, KAS
had “approached conservation officials in
Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Tanzania, and
Kenya,” trying unsuccessfully to expand their
operations. None wanted to do business with
KAS and South Africa, Ellis wrote, but somehow
“KAS succeeded in working with
Zimbabwean game wardens and funded a helicopter
for anti-poaching operations in the
Zambezi Valley,” along the Zambian border.
This was the mystery helicopter.
According to Owens Foundation
administrative director Mary Dykes, it was
definitely not the same helicopter that Mark
Owens obtained in 1988 and flew on frequent
anti-poaching patrols during the next four
years. The Owens helicopter, said Dykes,
“was donated by a wealthy individual who
lives in Atlanta. I bought the helicopter and
had it shipped to South Africa. Mark then
flew it to North Luanga.”
By all accounts, the Owens’ combination
of anti-poaching work with economic
development, exclusive of hunting, was successful.
Mark and Delia Owens wrote two
more books, The Eye of the Elephant (1991),
and Survivor’s Song (1996). But a March
1996 ABC News Turning Point episode called
Deadly Game: The Mark and Delia Owens
Story effectively drove them out of Africa.
As a whole, Turning Point offered a
quality investigative report on African elephant
conservation. “Sustainable use via hunting”
was explored, but Mark and Delia
Owens, opposing hunting, seemed to hold the
high ground––except in the title and leader
(the prefatory promotional note); teasers aired
between commercials, intended to keep viewers
watching; and a scene of apparent
Zambian game scouts shooting an alleged
poacher as he lay wounded on the ground.
The title called to mind the 1932
short story The Most Dangerous Game, by
Richard Connell, a staple of high school literature
classes, in which a trophy hunter pursues
kidnapped humans. The Connell story has
inspired many screen knock-offs, including a
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode aired not
long before the Turning Point piece.
The leader appeared to show Mark
Owens using his helicopter to spot and chase a
poacher. The footage, properly identified
later in the broadcast, was taken from a night
training exercise undertaken with the
Zimbabwean game scouts.
The teasers asked if Mark Owens
had crossed a line in his pursuit of poachers,
whom he admits to rousting at times by dropping
giant firecrackers near their camps. Mark
Owens was shown handing weapons to game
scouts, outfitting them with new boots, and at
times carrying a weapon himself, chiefly
while taking visitors to view wildlife.
All of this served to rivet attention
on the killing of the alleged poacher. But
Mark Owens is not in that scene. Even viewers
who think he might have been present cite
as evidence only the brief appearance of a
hand holding a weapon similar to one Owens
held in a different video clip.
In August 1996, Mark and Delia
Owens began their annual two-month visit to
Europe and the U.S. to raise funds and buy
supplies. This time, however, the Zambian
government withheld permission for them to
return to North Luanga.
On September 16, 1996, T u r n i n g
Point senior broadcast producer Janice Tomlin
wrote to Roland Kuchel, the U.S. ambassador
to Zambia, “I have learned that the footage
that was broadcast on our program of a poacher
being killed has created a problem for the
North Luanga Conservation Project. I can
assure you in the strongest way possible that
neither Mark nor Delia Owens nor any other
North Luanga Conservation Project staff were
even in the area at the time of this shooting.”
ABC stopped distributing D e a d l y
Game. But by not stating who did the shooting,
where and when, ABC stopped short of
clearing Mark and Delia Owens of suspicion.
Mark and Delia Owens had made
many enemies, including not only poachers
but also promoters eager to revive elephant
trophy hunting in Zambia, and to expand it in
Zimbabwe, where it not only never stopped
but has been subsidized since 1989 by $28.1
million in USAid grants.
Many of the Owens’ foes already
had copies of Deadly Game. A Florida magazine
for big game hunters called The Hunting
R e p o r t amplified the controversy for months.
The December 1996 Hunting Report wrapped
Deadly Game coverage around an announcement
that “The Hunting Report and famed
hunting attorney John J. Jackson III have
formed a strategic alliance to open a new front
in the fight for hunters’ rights worldwide.
Jackson is the immediate past president of
Safari Club International,” the item continued,
“whose successes include blocking an effort to
list the African elephant as endangered on the
U.S. endangered species list.”
T h e c o u p – d ’ g r a c e came in April
1997. A London Times article by one
Christina Lamb, writing from Lusaka,
Zambia, claimed Mark and Delia Owens had
been “drummed out of Zambia for ‘Rambostyle
activities’” including “instructing park
rangers to shoot to kill.”
In fact, Mark Owens did once tell
the Zambian game scouts he worked with to
shoot to kill, in the Deadly Game documentary––if
they met poachers who shot at them.
Mary Dykes responded with a sixpage
rebuttal of Lamb’s central allegations. It
was apparently never published.
Mark and Delia Owens now live in
Montana. Zambia says they could return;
according to Dykes, they don’t think they
would be safe if they did. Mark Owens in late
1998 was doing aerial surveying for the Idahobased
Selkirk Grizzly Bear Recovery Project.
The Frankfurt Zoo now runs the
North Luanga Conservation Project. Since
1996 the zoo has reportedly sponsored a training
camp for Malawian game scouts at
Liwonde National Park in Malawi. The camp
is directed by Mike Labuschagne, a veteran of
combat in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and
Angola who later did security work for South
African game farmers.
According to the Cape Town Argus
of December 12, 1998, “In Labuschagne’s
first three months, anti-poaching patrols
destroyed 118 boats used by poachers to fish
illegally in the Shire River. Only three boats
had been destroyed in the previous 18 months.
Before Labuschagne’s arrival, three scouts
had been killed by poachers. Since then, not a
single scout has been lost.”
The Frankfurt Zoo does not buy the
Liwonde project’s ammunition. Labuschagne
raises the funds for that elsewhere. But if the
Cape Town Argus report is credible, it is no
secret that “The training, which Labuschagne
refers to as ‘para-military,’ clearly has one
goal in mind: the elimination of poaching
through brute force and superior firepower.”
U.S. sends advisors
U.S. government agencies seem to
be getting more deeply involved in African
anti-poaching work, following stronger liaison
between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
and the CIA, which began soon after the 1993
inauguration of U.S. president Bill Clinton and
vice president Albert Gore.
USAid is only one of several U.S.
government avenues of influence in African
wildlife policymaking and enforcement. The
Cooperative Enforcement provisions of the
1994 Lusaka Agreement are another.
Negotiated by the United Nations Environment
Programme, the Lusaka Agreement links the
anti-poaching and wildlife trafficking operations
of the Congo, Kenya, Leosotho,
Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, with financial
support from the U.S., Canada, Denmark,
the Netherlands, Norway, and Great Britain.
The resultant joint task force is to start working
out of the Kenya Wildlife Service headquarters
in Nairobi beginning in June 1999.
The Partnership for Biodiversity,
cosponsored by the Interior Department and
the Peace Corps, affords further input. An
internal publication of the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service recently described how in late
1997 the Partnership for Biodiversity sent
USFWS Alaska regional director for law
enforcement John Gavit and Texas-based special
agent James Stinebaugh to Tanzania to
spend a week reviewing wildlife law enforcement
procedures at Tarangire National Park.
USFWS never answered a mid-1998
ANIMAL PEOPLE request for comment on
several aspects of the report, especially pertaining
to weapons supply and training.
Under the Clinton/Gore administration,
U.S. government involvement may be
expected to continue boosting the “sustainable
use” wildlife management popularized by the
World Wildlife Fund, which is also now
endorsed by the United Nations Food and
Not interested in wildlife conservation
per se, UN-FAO sees “sustainable use” as
a pretext to expand game farming. To promote
that idea, UN-FAO in mid-1998 mass-mailed
a report entitled Wildlife and food security in
Africa to U.S. environmental journalists.
Thus far in 1999, however, the
most visible UN-FAO African-oriented project
seems to have been the mid-March first conference
of the International Observatory on
Rabbit Breeding in Mediterranean Countries.
Meeting in Rome, the delegates offered rabbit-rearing
as “a low-cost answer to the problem
of hunger and rural poverty in developing
nations”–– whose chief problem, especially in
North Africa, is lack of the water needed to
raise green crops for either rabbits or humans.
Ultimately, coming to grips with
African wildlife poaching requires coming to
grips with African realities, including that a
continent dominated and exploited by warring
soldiers of fortune has little hope of developing
stable governments able to keep either
wildlife reserves or anything else secure.
Neither does selling wildlife to the
highest bidder tell Africans that poaching is
wrong. Rather, it reinforces the view that one
is wise to get the best price one can, before
freebooting strongmen horn in on the deal.
There is hope in U.S. history.
Yellowstone National Park had no law
enforcement for eight years after Congress
designated it in 1872, and had poaching problems
similar to those of Africa. Inside
Yellowstone, the state authorities of Idaho,
Wyoming, and Montana had no jurisdiction,
making the park a magnet for fugitives.
Henry Yount, the first Yellowstone
gamekeeper, quit after just a year because protecting
the deer, elk, antelope, and bighorn
sheep of the Lamar Valley from market
hunters was more than he could do alone.
Tent camps for visitors opened in
1883, but so much banditry followed that in
1886 the U.S. Secretary of War sent the First
Cavalry to establish law and order. Yet troops
alone didn’t do the job.
Within five years, the first Yellowstone
lodges were built. Poaching and crime
didn’t vanish with the advent of heavier tourist
traffic, but receded to the background level
which is to be expected wherever as many as
three million people a year go to see wildlife
and spend money.
The First Cavalry continued to patrol
Yellowstone until 1916. By then, their presence
was viewed as a quaint anachronism.
Promoting nonlethal wildlife-based tourism
had created an unparalleled place to see North
American animals––and stoked the economic
engine for much of three states.