SIMON MANN, the former SAS officer and coup-plotter, is planning to return to Africa to lend his mercenary expertise to help save the elephant. The Old Etonian adventurer, who spent five years in African jails after he was caught leading the “Wonga Coup” attempt to topple the head of Equatorial Guinea, has been in talks with charity executives about plans to set up a consultancy to target ivory poachers.
An increase in attacks has left the African elephant facing its greatest crisis in decades. “This is a big project for me,” he said. “It’s a sort of mini-war for a very good cause. African big game wildlife is something that I’ve loved and been quite close to all my life. I’ve spent a lot of time in Africa and so I know the bush, the animals and the people who live close to the animals. That is something that is important to me.”
Mann has been in exploratory talks with a unnamed British conservation charity working to protect elephants in the Laikipia Plateau in northern Kenya. The area is one of east Africa’s most important wildlife sanctuaries, and home to one of the continent’s last freeranging elephant populations. But it contains no designated government-protected areas and the wildlife depends on the goodwill of local people.
The charity believes that the former Scots Guards officer, who served in the SAS in Cyprus, Germany and Northern Ireland, could offer the antipoaching effort valuable skills such as intelligence-gathering, basic combat training and tracking. “Such capacity development would be of major benefit to elephant populations that are critically threatened, particularly in central and east Africa,” one charity executive said.
A recent report by Cites, the inter-governmental body which protects endangered species, revealed that poaching had tripled in recent years, with several elephants killed every hour. The report estimated that more than 25,000 elephants were killed in the continent in 2011, with the killing far exceeding natural population growth.
“In central and western Africa, the elephant may soon disappear from whole areas unless urgent action is taken,” it warned. T
he extent of the crisis was reinforced last week when it emerged that a heavily armed gang had killed an unknown number of elephants at a world heritage site in the Central African Republic. Mann said local game wardens need to be trained in infantry tactics to deal with gangs of machine-gun carrying poachers.
“It’s not just a case of running around trying to shoot a poacher, although that may occasionally happen,” he said. “You’ve got to have a comprehensive approach, with trainers on the ground, the right kit and communications equipment. Helicopters, fixedwing aircraft and even drones are also really important.”
News that the old dog of war is planning to return to Africa will be greeted with surprise by some Africa watchers and may make some wildlife conservationists nervous.
In 2004 Mann led a band of 60 mercenaries in a bizarre attempt to topple Obiang Nguema, the tyrannical president of the small west African nation of Equatorial Guinea, but he was arrested at Harare airport. He was put on trial in Zimbabwe and jailed for attempting to buy arms for an alleged coup attempt. After three years he was deported to Equatorial Guinea and sentenced to 34 years for crimes against the head of state and the government, but was released on humanitarian grounds in 2009. David Leppard, The Sunday Times 12 May 2013