Illegal poaching is expected to wipe out all elephants, rhinos, and other iconic wildlife in Africa within our lifetime if nothing is done to curb the practice. Activists are desperate for a solution and they may have finally found one—enlisting the help of combat-trained U.S. Army veterans to train rangers and help to protect the wildlife.
Kinessa Johnson is one of those veterans. She served for four years in Afghanistan as a mechanic and weapons instructor. She’s now taking her skills to Africa to combat poachers. Johnson joined Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife (VETPAW), an anti-poaching group made up of former soldiers and ex-Marines who train African rangers in marksmanship, counterintelligence, and field medicine.
The group also provides rangers with much needed support during patrols. More than half of park rangers deaths are caused by poachers. In 2014, 187 rangers lost their lives trying to protect elephants and rhinos from heavily-armed poachers who receive high-tech equipment and support from organized crime syndicates.
Many are branding the fight against poachers as “Africa’s new war.” It makes sense to bring in combat experts to help activists and rangers fight back. VETPAW doesn’t operate with the intent of killing anyone—its primary objective is to enforce existing poaching laws. And really, who would want to go up against this American badass?
Not everyone supports what Johnson and her team are trying to accomplish. She has received a lot of criticism online from people who think the pictures she’s posted on Instagram of herself holding a rifle are “distasteful.” Other critics question her experience and motives, but Johnson has said that she’s not a “poacher killer.”
VETPAW’s goal is to help park rangers track and detain poachers, and ultimately prevent poaching. However, Johnson admits that she finds the comments bashing her experience just because she’s a woman to be disheartening.