U.S. Warrior Arms Africans to Hunt Sudanese Poachers

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To clear this forest of poachers who've worked unopposed for decades is a fearsome challenge. Blatz will lead the training. He isn't new to paramilitary operations.

In 1989 Blatz helped train Tanzania's 755-member antipoaching brigade, now considered one of the great success stories of Africa. He also did undercover work, posing as a buyer to help police nab kingpins in the illegal animal trade.

"Once it was all working well, I left Tanzania. They knew what the hell they were doing, which was my cue to leave," Blatz said.

Given his success there, the World Conservation Union (IUCN), based in Gland, Switzerland, tapped Blatz in 1996 to assess the problem in CAR.

Blatz discovered local villagers were desperate for help. There is a racial element to the violence that is a shadow of the area's slaving past. "The poachers are primarily Arab gangs from northern Sudan preying on Christian black villages. These are people that have been oppressed for centuries," Casey said.

A Grim Challenge

Blatz's base in CAR will be the remote village of Yalinga, home to 3,000 people—the last village in an area most locals have fled. His goal is to set up a school, a medical center, and a home guard with a minimum of 50 men to protect the village. They will rotate out into the field for poaching patrols. Each patrol will consist of two groups of eight men moving in two trucks along the border with Sudan.

"The Sudanese set up fire zones and use fire to burn wildlife out of forest and drive it into open, then use submachine guns to slaughter everything," Casey said. Because most wildlife populations have crashed, brigades of 200-strong poachers are a thing of the past. Most poaching groups are now eight to ten well-armed men.

Two months of training the home guard begins this December. Shooting practice will take up the mornings. Afternoons will consist of training in military tactics, cleaning weapons, using field equipment.

"This isn't like East Africa. These are people who've never seen a tent or a backpack. You start completely from scratch," Blatz said. "However, they're good trackers with lots of experience in the bush."

By February Blatz hopes the first patrols will launch.

"They way I envision it, one truck will be about a kilometer [0.6 mile] behind the other, in case the first one is ambushed, so there is immediate support and we can't be flanked."

Blatz and the other founders of the CAWT hope to lead a charge that will bring order and a chance for both local people and wildlife to rebound.

"We want to help people protect themselves and the natural world they depend on, instead of being terrorized by a bunch of thugs strip-mining the wildlife," Casey said. "It's no one's right in this world to just wipe out every living thing in an area where other people live."

For more on poaching, watch Dangerous Jobs in the U.S. on Wednesday, August 11, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel.

For more wildlife-poaching news, scroll down.

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