The aggressive poaching of rhinos needs to be countered with equal
aggression. So argued Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, the
founder president of the World Wide Fund for nature (WWF), at a
1987 meeting with John Hanks, conservation expert and WWF’s head in
Africa. The result was Operation lock, a secret initiative funded
by Prince Bernhard and staffed by former SAS operatives. Operation
lock set up headquarters in Johannesburg and extended its reach
into neighbouring states: Namibia, Zambia, Botswana, Swaziland and
Mozambique. Its operatives planned to train game rangers, to pose
as rhino horn traders in order to entrap buyers, and to expose the
kingpins who were driving the trade. It was a controversial
approach, all the more because it was working within apartheid
South Africa in the late 1980s. When the existence of the project
was finally leaked, WWF denied any involvement, and John Hanks took
the fall. In Operation lock and the War on rhino poaching, John
Hanks finally tells the story of these explosive events from 25
years ago. As a leading international authority on conservation, he
also deals with the scourge of rhino poaching up to the present,
and gives powerful and controversial criticism of some of the
current policies to curb poaching.
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Review This Product
A story that needed to be told
Mon, 2 Jan 2017 | Review by: Andrew
Back in the late 1980’s, people within the WWF realised that the rhino poachers were militant and aggressive and that regular anti-poaching procedures were having no impact. To counter this, a group of British mercenaries were employed to try and infiltrate smuggling rings, as well as provide training to the wildlife officials that were facing the actual poachers.
This project was named ‘Operation Lock’ and was kept highly confidential, mainly to protect the operatives infiltrating the poaching rings. Unfortunately, it was this secrecy that made ‘Operation Lock’ look a little suspicious; the flames of rumour were fanned by the fact that OL was based in South Africa, itself a hotbed of misinformation. So it was almost inevitable that a secret organisation operating in SA at the time would automatically be assumed to have nefarious motives. Especially when SA operatives did try to infiltrate the operation to tap into the network.
When the story broke, the WWF got rid of the problem by the simple expedient of denying all knowledge, leaving John Hanks holding the bag. A bag he has steadfastly refused to open until now, 30 years after the controversy.
John Hanks has written a book covering this wonderfully interesting incident in the rhino poaching wars, but his history of the issues and overview of the current situation make OL a worthwhile and invaluable read. Extremely knowledgeable and capable of simplifying technical concepts, Hanks draws on his more than 50 years’ experience to tell a story that needed to be told.
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