AFRICA: From Poachers to Protectors African Parks Converts Adversaries into Advocates
The Republic of Congo (known as Congo-Brazzaville or Congo) shares with a score of African nations the growing scourge of elephant poaching. What is unique about the solution in Congo is the belief that, with prodding, poachers can reverse the course of their predatory lives and join the vanguard of a brand new environmental cadre. To demonstrate this concept, a respected NGO, African Parks, selected one of Congo’s largest wildlife preserves, Odzala-Kokoua National Park (Odzala), which it manages and where poaching has taken a great toll on the elephant population.
Odzala is situated in the northwest corner of Congo where the nation borders Gabon, and is completely contained within the Guineo-Congolian rainforest, which is the second largest arboreal entity (forest) in the Congo basin. The park was established in 1935 and remains a pristine sanctuary of almost 135 million hectares (531,000 square miles). The biological diversity of the region is remarkable, containing 114 species of mammals of which 16 are primates. Odzala is also home to large mammal species indigenous to the region—including an endangered and swiftly declining population of forest elephants. To the officials of African Parks, Odzala is in a dire battle against increasingly brazen and well-armed poachers.
African Parks, a non-profit NGO, manages eight national parks, making them sustainable into the future. The NGO manages 5.9 million hectares in seven countries: Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Rwanda, and Zambia. Please visit: Visit their website >>
In 2011, African Parks began working with an NGO, the Project for the Application of Law for Fauna, Republic of Congo (PALF), which focuses on invoking legal remedies for wildlife crimes. As the result of PALF concentration on investigation and prosecution, convictions of ivory poachers operating in Odzala began to increase. With PALF support, African Parksconducted a sting operation in Odzala in 2012 that uncovered a well-organized poaching network. A new head of Law Enforcement for Odzala was appointed in September 2012, who further enhanced anti-poaching enforcement actions. A coup in May 2013 was the arrest of a major indigenous kingpin who was both an elephant poacher and ivory trader.
About the time African Parks was considering a pilot program to train poachers who laid down their weapons in return for amnesty, The Richardson Center was starting to develop its anti-poaching program. In the summer of 2013, African Parks submitted a proposal to train an initial cadre of former poachers living in and around Odzala, and to build a training facility in the park as headquarters for an institutionalized “Poacher-to-Protector” eco-guard ranger program.
The Poachers-to-Protectors Program selection and training starts with a one-week course in Mbomo, south of Odzala-Kokoua National Park. Candidates who pass then undergo five weeks of basic ranger training. The Richardson Center is helping to fund construction of a new facility. Here, trainees learn to restrain prisoners.
To widen support for the initiative and to provide a head start leading to institutionalization, African Parks planned to invite observers from the Congolese Armed Forces as well as leading NGOS: World Wildlife Fund and Wildlife Conservation Society. An innovative component of this new program, commencing August 12, 2013, was the training of former poachers from local communities around the park who have committed to protect, rather than poach, wildlife. In October 2013, The Richardson Center provided funds to African Parks to establish a training facility to help institutionalize the Poacher-to-Protector program. A temporary camp has been constructed as a base for the training until The Richardson Center funds can be used to complete the permanent facility.
In the first recruitment wave, more than 40 individuals successfully completed the rigorous selection and training phases and were given jobs as eco-guards or eco-monitors in the national park. In the second class, there were 75 people who entered final selection and training—out of 250 who passed the pre-selection screening—reflecting the high bar that applicants must pass to become an eco-guard. (African Parks has noted that of the 250 candidates, an estimated 40% were not former poachers, but concerned residents who liked the idea of becoming protectors of their environment. African Parks accommodated them.) It should be noted that of the 75 who began training, attrition is expected to be high due to the rigor of the program: the everyday physical demands of an eco-guard can be daunting. In addition to removing poachers from the ivory supply chain, the process converts trainees into enforcers providing valuable intelligence on poachers and their activities around Odzala. This substantially improves the ability to investigate poaching networks in the region. As former poachers who have spent their lives in and around Odzala-Kokoua National Park, eco-guard candidates are familiar with the forest, which accelerates their learning curve.
For the immediate future, African Parks is planning to begin construction of the permanent training facility by mid-2015. Ground will be broken after the NGO’s board meeting where they will approve design and allocate necessary funds.
The Last Man Standing. After more than 50-million years in existence, Sudan is the last male northern white rhinoceros on Earth. On the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, heavily armed guards surround him 24-hours a day, to protect this solitary fellow from unrelenting poachers. At 40 years, Sudan is approaching the end of his natural life span. Four females survive, two of which live in captivity.
ASIA: The Mekong Project U.S. National Parks Mentors SE Asian Counterparts
Americans know the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) as the federal agency entrusted with management of our 407 park units – iconic American natural, cultural and historic sites such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, Statue of Liberty, Gettysburg Battlefield, and Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. In 2014, the National Park Service reached across the world on a 10-day anti-poaching “scoping mission” in the Mekong region of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, to identify natural resource law enforcement issues of their senior level Southeast Asian counterparts.
The historic trip was an extension of traditional NPS duties as it embraced multinational discussions about wildlife poaching (as well as other conservation priorities.) The NPS two-person scoping team was comprised of the former Superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, joined by the NPS International Cooperation Specialist for the Asia-Pacific region. Based on consultations with regional agency counterparts, NPS is moving forward with plans to facilitate training workshops for peer agencies in the Mekong region, funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (State/INL).
Earlier in 2013, NPS had entered into an interagency agreement with State/INL to provide law enforcement training with natural resource and cultural heritage agencies in the Lower Mekong region that included Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The agreement provided for a two-year endeavor featuring law enforcement workshops for protected area officials in the Lower Mekong countries–first, to work with senior agency level management to determine training needs and gaps, and then to provide that training to mid-level field managers. The NPS staff development approach puts the initial focus on executives and mid-level managers with the increased probability that the training concepts will be institutionalized and made the standard.
By way of precedent, between 1965 and 1991, NPS provided annual training to national park professionals from many nations, including conservation park managers from Thailand. More recently, NPS law enforcement special agents worked with the FBI and State/INL to conduct workshops to combat the smuggling of cultural antiquities, and have participated in anti-poaching ARREST/PROTECT workshops organized by a Bangkok-based NGO, Freeland Foundation. Additionally, NPS has provided high-level consulting assistance to the World Bank’s Global Tiger Initiative on “smart green infrastructure” and on combatting illegal wildlife trafficking of tiger on their native range nations.
As follow-up to this scoping mission, NPS will facilitate law enforcement training with senior level managers in natural and cultural resource agencies on topics and training needs that Thai, Laotian, Cambodian and Vietnamese colleagues want for their staff. These workshops are expected to take place in the Lower Mekong region in the spring and summer of 2015 in Thailand (on natural resources) and Cambodia (on cultural heritage).
Tigers of Greater Mekong. Indochinese tigers prowl the Greater Mekong where its 540,000 square kilometers of dense forests provide the largest tiger habitat on Earth. Listed as endangered in 2010, estimates now put the wild population at 650 individuals, down from 1,200 in 1998. Photo: WWF
Call for Applications: The Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) celebrated the 45th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 with a call to action on wildlife crime, inviting organizations and individuals to submit innovative science and technology solutions to help combat the illegal trade in marine and terrestrial wildlife. Successful applicants could win up to $500,000 as well as technical assistance and networking opportunities to scale their solutions.
The Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge (Challenge) is looking for fresh perspectives from innovators around the world to stem the slaughter of wildlife. Interested organizations and individuals have ten weeks (April 22 – June 30, 2015) to complete a short Concept Note describing themselves, their solution, and how it might scale up to achieve greater impact.
Applications must address at least one of four Challenge issues for which innovative science and technology solutions could offer immediate impact. Those four issue are: detecting transit routes, strengthening forensic evidence and intelligence, reducing consumer demand, and tackling corruption.
Judges will evaluate applications based on impact and scalability and award $10,000 prizes to those with the most promising Concept Notes. Prize winners will also have an opportunity to further compete for one of up to four Grand Prizes worth between $100,000 and $500,000.
This Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge is an initiative of USAID in partnership with National Geographic, the Smithsonian, and TRAFFIC, and complements USAID field programs in 25 countries working to prevent poaching, curb trafficking, or reduce demand for wildlife products. These efforts form a major contribution to the President’s Implementation Plan for the National Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking.
For more information on the Challenge, please visit www.wildlifecrimetech.org
Demand Reduction! PSAs with Attitude Target Wealthy Consumers
The first issue of Wildlife Matters featured documentaries and other videos about poaching and its lethal impact on endangered species. The aim of these high-profile visuals is to motivate consumers—especially those in economic strata responsible for the spiraling demand for ivory, rhino horn, and other animal parts—to reject opportunities to purchase products crafted from endangered species.
Freeland Foundation is an NGO that administers the counter wildlife trafficking program known as Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST) which is supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). With the goal of reducing endangered wildlife purchases in Asia, Freeland and its ARREST partners, including leading advertising executives, created iTHINK, a campaign platform to broaden the wildlife conversation. A special portfolio of iTHINK public service announcements (PSAs) targets key consumer groups in major Asian media markets. In the first, (see URL below), former U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney articulates the need for multi-part interventions to combat poaching. In other iTHINK PSAs (see examples below) local spokespersons make the case in languages native to the country targeted for demand reduction.
The PSAs are one facet of this initiative jointly funded by USAID, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF). The multinational effort is the product of a review started in 2012 by Freeland, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Wild Aid, and other NGOs and stakeholders to evaluate their separate wildlife protection campaigns. The parties came to a resounding conclusion: little was going to change in wildlife consumption unless consumer behavior underwent a major modification in the high demand countries of China, Thailand, and Viet Nam. Moreover, public service advertising would have to reach youth, business, and government in the respective nations. The advertising firm JWT advised that consumers conduct their own research and don’t want to be told what to buy or not buy, so the PSAs need to provide information for purchasers to reach their own conclusions.
A review of the PSAs demonstrates the critical psychological pathway from the broadcast of background information to consumer decision. the results are impressive: significant
countrywide support for the campaign. For example, in China placement of the PSAs has been supported by the equivalent of US $2.9 million of in-kind donations. The following are examples of PSAs broadcast in the above noted countries:
Key Opinion Leader: US Ambassador Kristie Kenney:
Watch Video on YouTube >>
Key Opinion Leader, Chinese Pop Star, Chris Lee (Li Yuchun):
Watch Video on YouTube >>
Ranger training overview:
Watch Video on YouTube >>
Mobile phone app:
Watch Video on YouTube >>