The Dedication of the Grumeti Fund Scouts
It’s 3:00am and Kabichi, the Senior Regional Leader for Anti-Poaching’s Special Operations Group, hears his call sign crackle over the digital radio next to his bed. A covert camera placed along the protected area boundary has just snapped a picture of three poachers carrying bushmeat and poaching implements. Within 90 seconds, the human recognition algorithm has identified the poachers in the photo and relayed the image via text message to the Law Enforcement Operations Room in the Joint Operations Center. The Ops Room confirms that the picture is of poachers with contraband and immediately radios Kabichi to scramble his elite scout team.
He quickly wakes his colleagues in the Special Operations Group (SOG). The eight-man team dresses in seconds, lacing their boots, loading their shotguns and alerting the canine unit to ready for deployment. By 3:15am two vehicles, 10 men and two dogs head out into the dark night. The camera image is geo-tagged with a GPS point, so the anti-poaching teams know exactly where the security breech has taken place. One vehicle races ahead to set up ambush further down the trail, hoping to lie in wait and catch the unsuspecting poachers as they come walking by. The second vehicle peels off and heads directly to the camera location.
The vehicle journey passes in silence: the men are professionals and ready themselves for the serious task that lies ahead. They are alert and aware that they are about to enter a potentially dangerous situation. The photo from the infra-red camera is grainy and it is hard to know how well-armed these poachers are… do they have guns, spears, poison arrows or machetes? The scouts prepare for the worst.
Kabichi, who has previously been attacked by a poacher with a machete and been shot in the arm with a poison arrow, knows all too well the dangers inherent to being a game scout. As the vehicle speeds through the dark night, the men focus on the mission ahead, replaying in their heads the skills and tactics that have been drilled into them through intensive training regimes with firearms, self-defense tactics, trauma medical courses and radio communication protocols.
The canine unit is deployed directly to the covert camera position to take up the tracks of the suspects. Kabichi leap frogs ahead with the rest of the SOG to a forward position to set his stopper group in ambush. Using hand signals, he stations his team in their ambush positions. The canine unit and second SOG scout team are roughly three kilometers away. They are already on the fresh tracks and pursuing the poachers at pace. Sandwiched between the tracker dogs and scouts lying in ambush, the poachers are caught between a rock and a hard place.
It’s 4:15am and the poachers can hear the panting of the dogs behind them and they start to run. By now they are only 500 meters from Kabichi and the second SOG team lying in wait in the thickets. Suddenly, in one calamitous moment everyone comes together. The dogs are immediately pulled off the track to safety, while the scouts wrestle the poachers to the ground. They have dropped all the bush meat and two of the three poachers are now in the custody of the SOG.
While catching poachers is important, catching the middlemen is even more critical. Kabichi calls the head of the Grumeti Fund Intelligence Unit to get information on who they suspect the bushmeat buyer might be. The SOG commander then gets one of the captured poachers to call the buyer and tell him that they are ready to hand over the meat. At this point a second ambush is laid. The buyer arrives on a motorbike and the SOG snatch him the moment he switches off the engine.
By 6:00am the SOG teams have dropped the poachers at the local police station and are headed back to headquarters as dawn breaks, turning the Serengeti sky crimson.
Not all operations go this well. The scouts were lucky that this poaching gang did not have firearms or poison arrows. No one was injured and they got the buyer. While this operation resulted in the successful arrest of three criminals and the confiscation of 169 pieces of bushmeat, which equates to about 25 poached animals, the scouts goal is to apprehend poachers before they kill any animals.
While our anti-poaching scouts tackle the poaching menace head on, the community outreach team focuses on boosting livelihoods opportunities by investing in education, enterprise development and the diversification of the local economy in surrounding communities.
Poaching is a complex threat that requires a multi-pronged approach to combat it effectively. But it is the scouts, working day and night at the coalface, putting their lives on the line for the protection of the iconic Serengeti ecosystem and Tanzania’s natural heritage, of whom we are extremely proud and eternally grateful.
Your support for the 100 Grumeti Fund scouts is greatly appreciated. Continuous training, upgrading of equipment, integration of specialized technology and day to day support is critical in allowing the program to develop and grow. To support the scouts click here