Looking out of the WAG base camp vintage point, never-ending savannah landscape rolled beneath in fascinating beauty. It was quite different from Central Africa's rainforest where I'm based as in the grasslands below there was still much wildlife left to be saved. Running into majestic elephants just outside the camp, I wandered how much of what we had learned during eight years of righting wildlife crime in Cameroon could help WAG keep these elephants from being wiped out by poaching.
WAG along with every NP in Africa are doing their best to increase anti-poaching efforts and are facing many challenges to protect elephants from the booming illegal ivory trade that is not yet matched to past years. Zakouma Park in Chad just lost most of its elephants within one year to poaching; several countries in Africa recently declared their elephant population extinct. My visit was responding to WAG`s request to assist and advise them on how best to step up protection against the expected threat of an organized effort to peach all elephants within a short time.
LAGA - The Last Great Ape Organization is the first wildlife law enforcement NGO in Africa. Our work is mainly targeting international wildlife dealers through investigations identifying offenders, operations of having them arrested during an illegal act, legal support preventing corruption during trial, and media awareness raising, It was the first attempt in Africa working with the government to improve wildlife law enforcement at national level Our work shows that poaching is a small part of far bigger problem of organized wildlife trafficking.
Believing that LAGA's experience can be valuable in other countries, WSPA decided to sponsor my trip to Southern Africa and also agreed to assist the projects in Malawi and Zambia WAG was a promising candidate for the visit as with the project's new management is had kick starting wildlife law enforcement, and had just carried out some important arrests and wanted to increase its effectiveness. And so I arrived to learn more about WAG's difficulties and challenges, to give some recommendations using LAGA's experience.
I spent 3 days in this unique eco-system, joined in some anti poaching patrols, got to see many animals including 3 different viewings of different groups of elephants within 3 hrs. We also had some interesting talks with WAG scouts who seemed to be very keen to learn and listened to recounts of my experiences elsewhere in Africa. WAG is doing a good job under difficult circumstances and they are making a difference despite coming head to head with countless poaching and corruption.
I suggested they replicate some areas of the LAGA model such as the need for gathering information of illegal wildlife activities outside the reserve with informants, police and courts often release wildlife criminals reportedly due to corruption (something WAG had first experienced). LAGA's recommendations include the open a law enforcement department in WAG concentrated in intelligence led law enforcement efforts in and outside the reserve, recruitment of two investigators, working in the villages around the reserves and the closet two big towns, and introducing to the villages around an open recruitment of informants, There is a need to appoint a wildlife law application scout that would follow up on arrests court cases (liaison officer), and making regular jail visits and meetings with collaborators.
The enforcement challenges were clear as well as possible solutions and met enthusiastically by WAG. My only hope is that supporters and wildlife lovers would respond to this urgent need and help raising the necessary funding for the wildlife law enforcement strategy to become a reality and for WAG to be able to protect nature in this threatened beautiful land.
Ofir Drori - Director LAGA