- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2000

An international animal rights group used U.S. funds to underwrite assault-weapons training for special anti-poaching "brigades" using Senegal army personnel in Africa, according to documents obtained by The Washington Times.
The program hired a former Israeli security official to train troops to protect African elephants using weapons captured from Saddam Hussein's army.
Friends of Animals pressured U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials in a March 1993 letter to award the first grant of $46,000 under the African Elephant Conservation Act to protect 28 elephants from poachers in West Africa.
Bill Clark, Friends of Animals' international program director, said in the letter to Kenneth Stansell, authority division chief at Fish and Wildlife, that training of the special brigades with AK-47 rifles would be disrupted unless they received the grant money.
"Air freighting grant-purchased equipment in time for the training program is now out of the question," Mr. Clark said.
"However, we intend to proceed with what is available, particularly with the French Army equipment and the U.S. Army 4X4s."
Mr. Clark said the Interior Department funding was needed for fuel and to help pay the salaries of some members of the special force.
"Even the fire discipline we teach with the new weapons provided by the French depends a great deal on whether the grant funding will soon be available. No funding means no fuel, and this means vehicles can not be counted upon to bring up supplies of ammunition if a ranger patrol engages a poaching gang in a gun fight," Mr. Clark said.
"No vehicular supply means each ranger will have to make do with the amount of ammunition he physically carries into the bush."
In the letter, Mr. Clark questioned whether there was a legal or technical problem with the grant, and noted the history of the grant application had been long and complicated.
The grant was awarded in June 1993, three months after Mr. Clark's letter.
Friends of Animals also obtained a $3 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to purchase excess military equipment left over from base closures in Europe from 1996 through 1998.
In grant reports to Fish and Wildlife, Friends of Animals said that money was used to acquire vehicles to move the anti-poaching brigades within the park, as well as radios, tools, generators and first-aid supplies.
The Department of Defense originally rejected a 1992 request, explaining in a letter to Friends of Animals that all excess equipment was being used to expand "humanitarian assistance commitments to the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe."
At least 30,000 rounds of ammunition and 50 magazines for the rifles was also provided to the African brigade by Friends of Animals.
"It's the Iran-Contra of conservation," said Rob Gordon, executive director of the National Wilderness Institute, a nonprofit conservation group.
The brigades were created by the Senegal army and the Senegal national park service, and provided about 32 soldiers, or half of the Niokolo Koba National Park's anti-poaching force.
Mr. Clark told U.S. officials the brigades were "better armed than their colleagues in the Senegal army."
At least 50 of the Soviet-made AK-47 riles were obtained by the Senegal government from the French government to protect animals in the park, which is designated by the United Nations as a World Heritage site.
The guns were originally seized from Iraqi troops by the French allies during the 1991 Gulf war. France turned the weapons over to Senegal in response to urgings from the Brigitte Bardot Foundation and Friends of Animals.
A former Fish and Wildlife official, who asked not to be identified, said providing such weaponry and training is dangerous.
"After a while, animal rights groups tend to forget about the project and without continued funding, those armed rangers will use the guns to start poaching the elephants," the former official said.
Mr. Clark said in a 1994 presentation to government officials that rangers are paid an average $90 a month, while poachers can make as much as $600 a month.
In his 1996 quarterly report to Fish and Wildlife, Mr. Clark said Friends of Animals had hired Dov Len, a retired Israel National police investigator to conduct training. In separate reports, he also said Friends of Animals provided advanced training in ambush tactics, prisoner management, and live fire training.
In the group's 1995 grant request, Mr. Clark said the Senegalese forces were instructed in "security tactics employed by the Israel Defense Forces."
But Mr. Clark told The Washington Times this week that training focused on safety and not Israeli defense tactics.
Through his grant proposals and presentations to Fish and Wildlife and Department of Defense officials over the course of six years, Mr. Clark reported that no elephants had been poached, and in fact hunters had stopped stalking the elephants for their ivory.
The greatest threat in the park was the hunting of "bushmeat," such as buffalo, waterbuck and antelope by gangs of poachers.
A Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman said the grants were awarded on the merits of the grant proposals and that the population of the elephants is increasing in the first time in a decade.
The elephant population in the park today stands at 56, Mr. Clark said, and there has been only one incident of poachers ambushing rangers since 1993.

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