We are delighted to share the story of one of our field rangers, a reformed wildlife poacher-cum-ranger, Mr. Aden Mohamed Guhad (44yrs), a Somali married with six kids and from Bura township. He does not have any formal education and has practiced pastoralism all his life and knows the conservancy like the back of his hand. Prior to joining our project, he had been a notorious hunter (poacher) who aided his Malakote neighbors (non-Somali hunter and gatherer group) for almost 20 years to hunt and sell bushmeat to the nearby towns in Bura east conservancy. While Somalis do not hunt bushmeat, Aden was recruited by a neighboring community; the Malakote to assist them in trapping the rare hirola antelope that apparently requires excellent Somali tracking skills to successfully hunt them down. While poachers rarely pin down hirola because of their skittishness, poachers believe their meat is tender and is worth every effort. Aden was compromised and he successfully aided his partners in to the core areas of the graceful hirola.
We consider his story unique because he happens to be the only Somali member of our team who has been involved in bushmeat trade, something considered a taboo by both his family and the whole of his community. Because of his rebellious and clandestine past actions, he is considered an outcast in the Somali community and faces stigma even today. In Somali traditions, such individuals are often referred to as the ‘midgaans’ (low-life) and are not even allowed to marry from the community. He was lucky to have escaped this norm and ended marrying simply because his in-laws were not aware of his actions then. However, his kids are likely to carry the same trade name and might have to battle one of the toughest human traditions in the Horn of Africa regions. Mr. Aden although afraid to be apprehended for his past terrible acts, reluctantly reports that he was introduced into wildlife bushmeat trade by his Malakote neighbors at the age of 24. He narrates that he was never really into the bushmeat trade but was curious to join and follow his Malakote friends and neighbors on most of their forays into the hirola’s geographic range.
These trips were especially in the dead of night as they went to check their already set snares in the woods. Aden vividly explained to us how they set up snares and dug holes in the ground, and ambushed them late in the night with very powerful high beam torches. “The high beam torches are specifically used to make the animals literally ‘go blind’ due to the powerful glare of its beam” he said. This apparently makes them vulnerable to the poachers who grab them amid the confusion” he added. As a poacher, he confesses that he has personally snared over 80 dikdiks, 2 hirola, 13 kudus and 11 giraffes together with his team of poachers. “We used to target antelopes (hirola, gerenuk and kudu) with our snares but sometimes our snares would end up trapping giraffes” he explained. “Since giraffes are bulky and not easy to conceal from law enforcers (KWS), we would sometimes let them go with snares tight on their hind legs” he added. “This resulted in the deaths of many giraffes and sometimes livestock from the community as well” he confesses. But his turnaround came when one of his colleague was arrested and sent to jail for two years and a stern warning given to all other poachers in the area to stop the vice. “I was fascinated by his superb tracking skills, his agility to walk long distances and his unmatched knowledge on animal behavior before I considered him for employment as a ranger” says our director, Dr. Abdullahi Ali.
Relying on his past involvement in the bushmeat trade, with his aid we have collected a lot of information on how the poachers operate, their target wildlife species (e.g. giraffe, hirola, kudu, gazelles), the methods used and some of the culprits involved. Actually, Aden has used his undercover involvement with the poachers to help convince most of his ‘poacher’ friends to shun the vice and come clean as well. Most of the culprits who were involved in the bushmeat trade are now afraid that they will be apprehended and sent behind bars now that Aden is reformed. While on patrol, Aden has recently confiscated 11 snares and has helped convince three of his former poaching colleagues to shun the vice. His involvement in the project is truly a blessing and we are proud to have him onboard. Aden has also been participating in our community outreach programme to help reform other poachers and publicly share his story with the wider public. This unique partnership with our project might help Aden regain the trust of the community once more, potentially reshaping the uncertain future of his children who are already mentally, physically or emotionally expelled from involvement in the Somali society.