Mountain Gorillas. Endangered
Why Africa needs a “Wild” Wildlife enforcement Agency
Special Report by Dr Alphonse Neba. Office of Research and Development, University of Botswana.
With more than 11.000 killed in Gabon’s Minkebe National park alone in the last nine years, conservationists are in a mad rush to protect endangered animal species. The Equatorial forest of Gabon is home to half of the world’s 100.000 remaining rain forest elephants and “If we don’t reverse this situation rapidly, the future of elephants in Africa will be compromised” Lee White, head of Gabon’s nationals parks agency said in a statement last Feb 6 2013. The increasing demand for Ivory in Asia is now fuelling the huge demand and by extension, the slaughter of elephants
Poachers are responsible for the killings of thousands of protected animal species across Africa on a daily basis. Except urgent action is taken, most Rhinos, mountain gorillas, Leopards, Chimpanzees and many other protected animal species will completely disappear from the wild forests of Africa in the next 20-30 years. Only co-ordinated action that will cover the whole continent can do this. There are thousands of game wardens, public officials and international organizations fighting to protect these endangered animal species and though their work has had relative success, it has not been good enough. Just when protection agencies were losing hope, a drastic solution to the problem came miles away from the continent.
This is exactly what happened when former Israeli army officer and freelance writer Ofir Drori, 36, decided to create a wildlife enforcement organization in Cameroon; The Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA) in 2004. In less than nine years, he and his network of “spies” had successfully investigated and sent dozens of poachers to long prison terms or the imposition of big fines. Some local poachers were netted in the operations but LAGA is more interested in the big time trans-atlantic traffickers making millions of dollars annually in profits from the illegal trade in endangered animals’ species and their body parts. The prosecuted wildlife criminals included Americans, Koreans, Chinese and of course, Cameroonians.
LAGA Goes Abroad
Wildlife crime cuts across continents so a continental programme is needed to fight against these criminals. Ofir Drori and his team of “spies” have now replicated the LAGA model to four other African countries. There are new models in Congo Brazzaville , Central African Republic , Gabon and Guinea Conakry. Extending to other countries has its problems;
“Our main obstacle is finding good activists… A lot can be achieved with very little money as long as you have good activists” according to LAGA Director Ofir Drori.
It’s still unclear why it is so difficult to get real committed people to join in the fight to stop poachers. A lot of people across Africa still prefer “bush meat” to other forms of meat. LAGA only fights to protect endangered species like Chimps, gorillas and lions so technically is not against the eating of small animals that are not in danger of getting extinct.
“A poor villager would never benefit anything from the killing of an elephant for its ivory” according to Eric Kaba Tah, Communications officer for LAGA. He maintains that a lot of villagers will be shocked by the “ridiculously high prices” that wildlife body parts search in Asian markets and will not connive with poachers to kill protected species.
LAGA officials are happy when they get news like the recent arrests of poachers with 18 ivory tusks weighting 178 kg from their local partner Luc Mathot in Libreville Gabon.
Ofir Drori and LAGA are largely sponsored by supporters and a handful of foreign aid agencies but they need more money and manpower to do their work effectively. They also need political support from politicians across Africa. Time to act is now.
Interview of Ofir Drori coming soon