Wildlife Conservation Society Turns Former Poachers Into Sustainable Farmers
Two wildlife traffickers have been arrested while attempting to trade ivory in Zambia. They were part of a major syndicate in the illegal wildlife trade. A farmer, a member of a cooperative of small-scale farmers, played a key role in the arrests.
Many of the members of this cooperative are former poachers.
The arrests were made by the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA).
Wildlife Conservation Society reports that “The farmer, a former poacher and now a Markets for Conservation (COMACO) lead farmer training other farmers to be food self-reliant, provided information on the movement of illegal wildlife by traffickers through the western side of the Luangwa Valley. The information was then communicated by COMACO staff to ZAWA who organized a sting operation resulting in two arrests and a trove of information that revealed details of a wildlife poaching syndicate operating out of Lusaka.”
The arrest of the two men lead to discovery of other traders in the syndicate selling ivory, leopard skins, and other wildlife contraband to Congolese and Chinese buyers.
The Markets for Conservation group, stewarded by WCS, has been working in Zambia since 2003 to help poor farmers near national parks improve their skills, grow surpluses, and receive above-market prices for their produce in exchange for meeting conservation targets. More than 109,000 people are members of COMACO.
“These recent arrests all started with the good will of one of our lead farmers. We are definitely seeing a trend in farmer willingness to help with law enforcement and I believe we are now finally beginning to show the real benefits of the COMACO model.” – Dale Lewis, President and Founder of COMACO
A police officer from Lusaka was recently implicated by COMACO farmers in elephant poaching. ZAWA made an arrest was made but no ivory was found, but the police officer was cited for an unregistered firearm.
To improve animal protection and speed up the arrest rate of poachers, farmers are encouraged to call a province-wide radio station when they see illegal activities. The radio station receives 20-30 call-ins each month, and the information is passed to a law enforcement agency.
“2015 will be an important year as we continue to work closely with ZAWA and the Forestry Department to build our conservation link with farmers through the type of market incentives and education COMACO provides. In the coming year, it is hoped that ZAWA will gazette some of our lead farmers and transformed poachers as Honorary Wildlife Officers (HWPO) and we will supply them all with cellphones. Once traders know we’re watching, they may find opportunities limited and too risky.” – Dale Lewis, COMACO President
The mission of the Wildlife Conservation Society is to save wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.