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Military Veterans join forces with conservation charity to protect African wildlife


The Royal Foundation, the charitable vehicle for The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the military charity Walking With The Wounded are working with the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation in a new training initiative to help crack down on the illegal wildlife trade and poaching in Africa.

The three charities are joining forces to launch ‘Operation Footprints’. This project supports former servicemen and women to train wildlife rangers on the ground. The project will provide veterans the opportunity to share the inherent skills they acquired during their military service, enhance their CVs, gain training qualifications, provide them with quality ‘hands-on’ work experience as well as significantly upskilling the game rangers they are training.

Some of the ex-military beneficiaries of this training include the ‘harder to reach’ group, due to social isolation, disability or mental health issues and they will benefit greatly from such an experience. Walking With The Wounded provide vulnerable veterans independence through employment and the current cohort of veterans engaged with this project are supported by the Walking With The Wounded charity.

‘Operation Footprints’ will use the expert operational skills of former soldiers to empower wildlife rangers, focusing on non-combatant skills such as medical training, vehicle maintenance and ranger welfare.

Walking With The Wounded (WWTW) Trustee Guy Disney said: “The project will not only provide African anti-poaching rangers with excellent training, but it will offer valuable opportunities in conservation for veterans.”

The world is fighting a war on poaching - over 30,000 elephants are killed every year in Africa alone. In just 40 years, wildlife populations across the planet have fallen by 60% with some species on a fast track to extinction. Despite this shocking fact, the illegal trade in wildlife parts feeds an industry worth £15bn per annum as consumer demand for wildlife products in Asian markets grows.

The Royal Foundation (TRF) Veteran’s Employment Programme Manager, Karen Hodgson, said: “Supporting veterans transitioning into civilian life from serving in the armed forces and conservation are key areas of focus for TRF. Therefore, we have provided a grant and are delighted to support the ‘Operation Footprints’ initiative which combines these two important areas of interest as this will jointly benefit veterans and rangers.”

The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) works tirelessly to fight wildlife crime, protect threatened species and engage with local communities to help turn the tide for endangered wildlife.

Providing ‘boots on the ground’ support and the development of in-country ranger teams is one of the most effective and sustainable conservation tools used to tackle environmental crime.

DSWF’s CEO Karen Botha said: “We owe it to the rangers, incredibly brave men and women working in increasingly hostile environments to provide the best possible resources to carry out their critical work in keeping endangered wildlife safe.

“Enabling access to the first-hand practical knowledge and expertise from British military veterans, who have undergone the most elite training in the world, will have an extremely positive impact.

“By deploying innovative ideas, aimed at not only long-term sustainable personnel development, but also at immediate impact-results training, we hope to help turn the tide against the poaching epidemic sweeping the region.”

A successful pilot ‘Operation Footprints’ training session took place in Zambia in October 2018, with DSWF working alongside ground-based partner Game Rangers International (GRI). It focussed on first response medical training with the GRI-supported government ‘Special Anti-Poaching Unit’ - an elite team of intelligence-led park protection rangers.

DSWF’s Head of Programmes and Policy, Georgina Lamb, who hosted the initial pilot session, said the interaction between the veterans and the rangers was ‘amazing to witness’.

Georgina said: “The ex-servicemen and women are no strangers to operating in difficult and challenging landscapes - the environment in which African-based anti-poaching units operate is no different.

“They shared a connection and had something in common from the first day, an understanding of the hardships that go with the job, which few can appreciate and replicate.

“The veterans’ experiences of working with different cultures and in hostile environments will provide an invaluable resource in the training arena, imparting world class knowledge to wildlife rangers operating on the front line of wildlife protection.”

The official ‘Operation Footprints’ project commenced in Zambia in January 2019. Four training sessions will be held throughout the year, focused on imparting practical knowledge for all parties. It’s hoped the project will help save lives and increase the impacts wildlife rangers have on protecting Africa’s vulnerable and iconic species and landscapes.

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