Many have been writing about the poaching industry and the terrible issues that derive from it at global and micro levels. Normally the attention of such articles focuses on the dynamics that lay behind the flow of the attacks or the motivation that pushes local people in remote African countries to become poachers.
In this article I will focus on a matter that is rarely discussed; is saying the path one needs to follow to become an anti-Poaching Operator.In order to do so I was given the opportunity to interview Stefano Bertocchi; an Italian PPO (Poaching Prevention Operator) that has been spending the last six years in this noble and highly risky activity.
Differently from what happens in many other sectors, a military background is not compulsory in this kind of job. The person I interviewed has never been in the army and all of his tactical training was obtained privately.
Stefano Bertocchi is a 30-years-old Italian man who decided; like few others did; to join the WAR against poaching. This decision, defined more as a mission, a call, is something that changed Stefano’s life forever on various levels. Joining the “ good fight” is the path that very few embrace in the security sector due to several peculiarities and issues related to this specific field. We will use the direct witnessing of Stefano Bertocchi.
How did you decide to become an anti-poaching ranger?
The path was not easy, I must say. The obstacles and issues I found were many and, at the beginning of my adventure (five years ago), I did not have a clear idea of what to do in order to reach my goals. After several attempts I discovered the Poaching Prevention Academy (PPA)and met Davide Bomben, this was about two years ago, since that moment my life changed gradually yet inexorably. Today, after several years of training, travel, experience and sacrifice I am not only a PPO but also an instructor in PPA and ESA on various tactical disciplines.
PPA and The European Security Academy (ESA) are the main partners in this entire project. Basically what we do are supporting and training activities (at strategical and tactical level) with local rangers from different locations in Africa. We get called and selected by game reserves that need particular protection due to specific poaching threats and we organize training and support missions with our staff and volunteers.We work mainly in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Our contribution drastically changes the situation in many different scenarios
Is the training tough? Does physical preparation cover an important role?
Being prepared and trained surely plays an important role in what we do but it’s crucially to underline that the most important part of the training of a PPO or of a ranger is the deep knowledge of the environment along with the specific skills to protect it and the wildlife that lives in it. Even if most of us are not from the military we are all “fit to fight” and some of us have gained such a tactical preparation to compete easily with soldiers.
Training and remaining trained is not something easy or granted for me. Each week I spend several hours in the gym or at the shooting range. I take it very seriously and as part of my responsibility not only as a PPO but also as an instructor, a teacher in some way.
After my training period in Europe I faced my first mission in Africa and soon after that experience I did all I could to try to make conservation my main Job. It is not easy at all but now this activity is finally occupying most of my days and I’m very proud of what I do and of the ones who train with me. I can say that I view my life as a flow of people I learn from. From each one I try to take the best I can, that one unique characteristic I respect in each new person I meet…this is what I believe in and that I teach to my students.
Do you have any new projects in mind for the future?
Yes, we have many. I think that if we want to have a chance in this fight we need to dedicate energy and passion and put together the biggest group we can. We need to have what poachers don’t have, a group and a sense of membership.
The latest idea we are working on is a partnership between the PPA and the South African company “pit track”. Our project, that I’m personally following and promoting is to start training some of our volunteers specifically to support the dog handlers of the anti-poaching K-9 units. This project is something I’m very proud of and in which I deeply believe in due to my personal background: I was born and raised in a big farm where my family breeds Huskys so dogs have always been my best friends. Animals, weapons and martial arts have always been my biggest passions so here we are. I don’t want to say so much more about the project since we still have to define various aspects.
What I can and want to say is that we are fighting a real war, a war that we are trying to win but inevitably are loosing. What we are always in need of are donations not only of financial resources or of equipment but also of time, of passion.
The ways to serve the PPA in the war against poaching are many, not all of us are in the frontline, some help us with training, crowdfunding or similar activities that are as important as fighting. For the ones that, like me, want to go to Africa to physically support, I’m waiting for you in the ESA base in Poland for the training.
We need passionate and serious people willing to help us in the good fight for conservation. This war is not only ours…it’s everybody’s war. If we don’t fight now, there where everything is happening, there is a lot to loose and there will be no time to go back.