Controversial Anti-Poaching Unit Formally Disbands

by | Mar 15, 2022 | News | 0 comments

Maseru — The Ministry of Ecology and Environment has announced the formal dissolution of the Wildlife Protection Force.

The declaration finalizes the disbandment of a ninety-year old detachment that has, despite its nominally limited duties, generated both an outsized cultural impact and controversy.

The WPF was first established in 2010 as an ad-hoc unit of former SWAPO fighters contracted by the government to fight elephant poaching in the Kavango People’s Republic. 

The trade in increasingly endangered species dates back to the Revolution, when numerous factions funded themselves through the sale of ivory and exotic furs. This was particularly endemic in the northern Republics, and remained a serious issue even after the fall of Apartheid. The trade as an official party policy ended with the war in recognition of the immense cultural importance of the targeted species, but the poaching industry was absorbed into the general surge of banditry that accompanied this period. For much of the 2000s, fighting poaching was similarly a part of the wider counter-banditry and smuggling operations which effectively defined the early role of the central government.

Poaching was first singled out as an issue in 2010, largely due to its unique targets and increasingly lucrative nature for criminal groups. The WPF was established as a special task force to operate in the vast and sparsely populated bushlands that numerous at-risk species migrated through.

The unit became increasingly controversial over the decades to come. The armed nature of poaching groups meant that the WPF in turn was heavily militarized. Poachers were typically drawn from economically stricken communities in the northern Republics, and the Okavango Crisis greatly exacerbated the problem. The WPF frequently targeted marginalized pastoral and semi-nomadic groups in the region for raids and arrests, a practice which led to a series of out-of-court settlements in the 2080s.

Despite this, the force saw considerable success over the 21st century. Though sharp declines in poaching have been attributed to improving economic factors, stringent government measures enforced by the WPF served to protect an array of animal groups from criminal predation. The unit was cemented in popular imagination through the 2065 video game Bad Haven, one of the first highly successful virtual reality first-person shooters developed in the Union.

With illegal hunting becoming an increasingly uncommon practice within the Union, the need for such a militarized and heavily armed force has been called into question, particularly in light of its history. Funding for the WPF has declined consistently over the past decade, and as of today the force has been officially dismantled. Its remaining assets and personnel will be transferred to the People’s Frontier Forces. The majority of illicit hunting cases today take place near the Angolan, Zambian, and Mozambican borders, and are complicated due to the cross-jurisdiction migrations of many species. The PFF has enshrined the elimination of such activities in its core mission, and the WPF’s remaining duties will likely be reassigned to other branches of the Environment Ministry.