Every day, one hundred elephants are slain. A rhino is shot once every eight hours for its precious horns.
The unlawful poaching and trafficking of African wildlife is a multi-billion dollar industry. It is the third most valuable criminal commerce in the world. Poaching is highly organized and highly militarized.
In order to combat this cruel industry, Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife, or VETPAW, was established in 2014. The 80+ member team is made up of post-9/11 veterans from all across the world who have received extensive anti-terrorism and counterinsurgency training.
The concept for VETPAW came to Ryan Tate, a veteran Marine, after seeing a TV poaching documentary. Innocent animals being hunted for their horns and tusks were depicted in the film in devastating sequences.
“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 made the decision to travel to Africa with a few other veterans in order to assist local law enforcement there with their military knowledge. It was initially challenging for them to transfer their abilities into anti-poaching protocol, and it was even harder to adjust to the unfamiliar surroundings.
“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 group came to the conclusion that their training efforts were not only effective but also vital.
“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.”
“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.”
Currently, some VETPAW members engage in combat alongside rangers while equipped with night vision scopes and other military hardware. Others teach local villages about the hazards of participating in animal poaching and trafficking. VETPAW still provides training in a variety of areas, including safety, de-escalation, operational advice, and weaponry.
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.