Every day, one hundred elephants are slaughtered. Every eight hours, a rhino is gunned down for its valuable horns.
The illegal poaching and trafficking of African wildlife is a multi-billion dollar industry. It is the third most valuable illicit commerce in the world. Poaching is highly organized and highly militarized.
In 2014, Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife, or VETPAW, formed to take action against this inhumane industry. Comprised of post 9/11-Veterans from across the globe, the 80+ member team is highly trained in anti-terrorism and counter-insurgency.
The idea for VETPAW came to U.S. Marine veteran Ryan Tate after he watched a poaching documentary on TV. The film featured heartbreaking scenes of innocent animals being hunted for their horns and tusks.
“Seeing the sheer numbers of rhinos and elephants kidnapped, tortured and murdered, all these emotions were pouring out of me,” he said. “I discovered the crisis in Africa and decided to help the voiceless.”
Tate decided to journey to Africa with some fellow veterans to offer their military expertise to local law enforcement. At first, it was difficult to translate their skills into anti-poaching protocol, and even more difficult to adapt to the unfamiliar environment.
“It was challenging at first. I slept with rangers on the dirt. They barely spoke the same language. We’d run up trees because there was a buffalo running at us in the middle of the night.”
The team realized that their training efforts were not only successful, but necessary.
“Not a single ranger knew first aid, nor had they ever seen a tourniquet. We had rangers dying of Malaria. It was unbelievable and so mind-blowing to introduce a tourniquet and antibiotics to rangers.”
Tate and the VETPAW team quickly learned that poachers didn’t just pose a threat to animals. Often times, rangers are outnumbered and even outgunned. VETPAW discovered that efficient patrolling was the safest tactic for animals and rangers alike.
“We teach them how to patrol correctly. How to cover the vast parks with a small number of rangers,” Tate said. “Some rangers have to cover 100,000 acres with mountains, cliffs, and rivers.”
Today, some VETPAW members fight side-by-side with rangers: armed, with night vision scopes and military equipment. Others educate local villages about the dangers of participating in wildlife poaching and trafficking. VETPAW continues to offer training in firearms, safety, de-escalation, operational advisement and more.
In six years of service, the VETPAW team has seen zero animals suffer from poaching on the 57,000 acres the organization oversees. VETPAW has trained over 1000 rangers in Africa to optimize the patrol of their wildlife parks and keep poachers far away.
Local law enforcement’s intelligence-based strategy, largely implemented by VETPAW, is breaking the illegal poaching supply chain day by day.
“You see veterans becoming conservationists They’ve found for something amazing. I’m super proud of that. It’s so powerful. It’s very rewarding.”
To learn more about VETPAW, visit vetpaw.org.