Odzala-Kokoua National Park’s eco-guard unit have recently scored notable successes against high level poachers and dealers in the Congo Republic. In July a major Congolese dealer was convicted and last month a major Chinese ivory dealer was arrested.
The breakthroughs occurred, in part, through an amnesty scheme to local poachers and the opportunity to stop poaching and secure employment as rangers.
The amnesty scheme was quietly introduced last December by African Parks who manage the Odzala-Kokoua National Park. Through ‘word of mouth’ promotion local poachers were encouraged to give themselves up and hand in their weapons. They also had to provide written statements to park authorities about their poaching activities. In exchange African Parks offered them an opportunity to apply for training to become one of the parks wardens.
The programme led to 56 poachers handing themselves in and 45 of them completed rigorous selection and training programmes to become employed by the park. 29 of the successful former poachers are employed as fully fledged eco-guards protecting the wildlife and the other 17 have been employed as eco-monitors who are involved n the recording and surveying of the parks wildlife.
Five of the amnesty applicants confessed to previously working with major regional ivory kingpin, Ngondjo Ghislain, known by the nick-name “Pepito”, and their statements were admitted to the court in Ewo where he was tried. “Pepito” was convicted in July and is currently serving a five-year prison sentence.
On 15 October a group of eco-guards, also comprising former poachers, identified and arrested an alleged Chinese ivory trader and his driver, also a Chinese national. The trader was found to be in possession of three pieces of ivory. During the course of his arrest, the ivory trader tried unsuccessfully to bribe a member of Odzala’s anti-poaching unit. The two men were transported to the police station in Ouesso the following day to make their official statements. They were both charged but released. The case is currently before the country’s national prosecutor.
“While poaching is a more lucrative occupation than being an eco-guard, the amnesty recruits were attracted by the benefits of a stable, legal job with social security benefits,” said African Parks’s manager for Odzala-Kokoua National Park, Leon Lamprecht. “Some also admitted that Odzala’s anti-poaching efforts were making it increasingly difficult for them to continue hunting illegally and avoid arrest.”
Prior to African Parks taking on the management of Odzala under the auspices of the Odzala-Kokoua Foundation in 2011, the central area of the park had not been patrolled for four years. Since then, African Parks has implemented an effective, multi-pronged anti-poaching plan to address threats to the park. Lamprecht and his team at Odzala are planning a second amnesty programme, coupled with a recruitment drive for new eco-guards, in February 2014. A permanent eco-guard training facility is to be set up at Odzala in 2014, with funding provided by the US-based Richardson Foundation.
The success of the first amnesty has led to Africa Parks deciding that a second amnesty programme will be launched in the future.