Working in partnership with African Parks, the Richardson Center supported the launch of a poacher-to-protector training program in Odzala-Kokoua National Park, Republic of Congo, in 2012. This pilot training was attended by observers from the Congolese Armed Forces, WWF and Wildlife Conservation Society.
An innovative component of this new program is that it involves the training of former poachers from local communities around the park who have committed to protect rather than poach wildlife. Apart from taking poachers out of the system by converting them into law enforcers, this amnesty program has the added benefit of providing valuable information on poaching activities and known poachers in and around Odzala. This substantially improves the ability to investigate poaching networks in the region going forward.
The selection and training program included a one-week selection course at Mbomo, a village south of the National Park, where park headquarters are based; and, candidates who pass the selection course underwent a 3-week ranger-training course.
The pilot program produced a record number of amnesty settlements and 56 weapons have been recovered. Fifty-six former poachers were accepted into the ranger-training program and—after rigorous screening—43 successfully completed training and were given jobs as eco-guards or eco-monitors in the national park. An additional 12 park employees signed-up for the training; and 10 candidates from the WWF- funded ETIC project also joined the training.
Testimonies of former poachers helped bring to justice a regional poaching kingpin, Ngondjo Ghislain, also known as “Pepito.” Active in Odzala-Kokoua National Park, he was known for providing poachers with firearms and ammunition in return for ivory. After his arrest and trial, Pepito was sentenced to five years in prison, the toughest penalty in Congo for poaching.