Day 2 Afternoon. Corruption, mass poaching, zero prosecutions and the Amazing Ofir Drori. Ofir Drori is the founder and director of LAGA, which is the first independent non-governmental wildlife law enforcement in Africa and unique in the world in its approach and activities, working in close collaboration with Governments. Listening to his story of the challenges he has taken by challenging corrupt governments, ministers, officials etc. whilst trying to prosecute the kingpins guilty of mass poaching and illegal trafficking the fact he is still alive is probably only testament to his undoubtable skills and rock solid determination. His initial research showed that in 10 years of laws being in place in Central and Western Africa against illegal poaching and trafficking of endangered animals there had been not one successful prosecution of any individual!!! Not a single one in 10 years!! Today he is responsible for over 1000 successful prosecutions where all have resulted in a jail sentence as criteria for his success! From zero to 1000!! What an amazing man who I feel very privileged to have been able to spend so much time with. He has taught me a lot in that time and I know will be an invaluable fountain of knowledge and support in my own personal crusade to help endangered animals. More on Ofir below Ofir is a 39 year old Israeli that has lived for most of the past 8 years in 26 African countries as an adventurer, journalist, photographer, educator, and activist. Ofir says that -“Falling in love with Africa was easy, but receiving great love back, turned me into a passionate activist, contributing in any way I could in photojournalism, teaching or humanitarian aid operations. Jane Goodall’s words predicting the start of ape extinction within 15 years brought me to Cameroon to write about this crisis. Searching for the heroes fighting to change this forecast, I found a larger problem instead. I started researching why the law hasn’t been enforced even once, a decade after it was put in place, with a focus on corruption and innovative ways to fight it. In a remote small town with extensive ape trade, I was led to an infant survivor of the bush meat trade – a baby chimp, tied up abused and sick, in a dirty room. His eyes were like those of human babies, but nobody seemed to notice. It was horrible and I knew that if I do nothing, he would die. When the local authorities refused to act, I bluffed the poachers into handing over the captive chimp. I untied him from his ropes and hugged him. In seconds he was transformed to a baby and he clung to my chest like it was an island of safety. He would have died before reaching the third year of his life; now he got the chance to reach 50, the chance to outlive me. I named him Future, because that is what I wanted to give him and what I want to give his species. Future had to live with me for the first months before he could join an ape family in a proper shelter but that special day I saved Future was the day I decided to stay and pioneer a Wildlife Law Enforcement NGO fighting to save the last great apes from extinction. My deep love for Africa turned me into an activist. My values of respect and peace between people and with nature turned me into a passionate fighter for nature. I believe that defending wildlife from extinction is our moral obligation, and a cause worth dedicating one’s life to. One that would take much dedication, devotion, and innovation to fulfil. The circumstances in which LAGA was born are very unique. Without any background in conservation no prior academic knowledge, LAGA was born as an outsider. “Reinventing the wheel” approach has its own disadvantages but it allowed us a fresh start – not inheriting old approaches not taking old conventions for granted. LAGA was born out of criticism against the failure of conservation and the realities of the foreign aid business in general. Intended to serve both as an antithesis to the existing conservation world as well as an experiment field in the search for a paradigm shift.” LAGA started with a baseline of Zero prosecutions under the wildlife law in almost all the countries of west and central Africa. Zero is quite a strong baseline that was kept stable for a decade with existence of sufficient laws! Today LAGA has built legitimacy for a new model of interaction between an NGO and Government. Seven months after its registration LAGA brought about the first wildlife prosecution in Cameroon. From 2006, every week a major illegal wildlife dealer has been arrested, around 87% of these are behind bars from the moment of arrest with no bail granted. Prosecutions are satisfying and have reached the maximum jail term of 3 years. Damages awarded have reached $200,000 for a wildlife case. Media efforts result every year in 365 media pieces put on TV, radio and written press – one per day. Experience from Cameroon has proven that enforcing existing wildlife laws and providing measurable standards for the effectiveness of the enforcement, that is the number of major wildlife law violators receiving and serving a deterring punishment, is possible. Unfortunately baseline for this indicator is still zero in most countries in the Central and Western African Sub-regions highlighting the need for the extension of the LAGA model. The model has already been set up under the PALF project in Congo Brazzaville and the RALF project in Central Africa Republic with arrests and prosecutions carried out. In Gabon, the AALF project is responsible for replication under the NGO Conservation Justice. Apart of Central Africa, the model is on-going in Togo under the TALFF project, in Guinea – Conakry under the GALF project and in Senegal under the WARA project. Meanwhile, Chad and Nigeria are still in the process. LAGA’s DIFFERENT ACTIVITIES: · INVESTIGATION– Investigators, undercover agents and informers gather precise information so that dealers in meat and the products of threatened species can be arrested in the act, producing concrete evidence for the courts. · OPERATIONS – LAGA technically assists MINFOF and the Forces of Law and Order to arrest violators and to channel complaint reports to the courts. LAGA closely supervises operations in the field. · LEGAL ASSISTANCE – LAGA formed a legal team to assist in the administrative procedures of prosecuting the first wildlife cases known in the courts of Cameroon. · MEDIA – LAGA puts newsflashes into national TV news, national radio news and written press concerning the success of the operations and positive court rulings. The Cameroonian media informs the public that the law is actively enforced, thereby achieving education of the public on the change, increasing deterrent, and classification of the illegal trade in endangered wildlife as criminal. http://www.laga-enforcement.org/