Wildlife law enforcement champions from 10 countries were recognized Tuesday with the Clark R. Bavin Wildlife Law Enforcement Award at the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Geneva.
The Animal Welfare Institute presents the prestigious award to individuals, organizations and agencies that have demonstrated excellence in combating wildlife crime.
“The importance of efforts to combat wildlife crime cannot be understated,” said AWI President Cathy Liss. “Those honoured today for their superlative efforts, including 16 rangers who died in the line of duty, should be recognized worldwide for their dedication to saving the unique biodiversity of this planet from wildlife criminals who steal wildlife from all of us.”
The 2019 winners are:
● Dr. Elizabeth Ehi-Ebewele (being honoured posthumously), former deputy director and head of the Wildlife and CITES Management Division of the Department of Forestry in Nigeria, for providing a solid foundation for Nigeria to reduce wildlife crime by bringing in a diverse group of stakeholders. Ehi-Ebewele created Nigeria’s first national guidance on wildlife crime, after conducting a wildlife threat assessment analysis. She also helped develop West Africa’s strategy for combatting wildlife crime through a coordinated response from member countries of the Economic Community of West African States.
● Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon, for providing a safe haven and rehabilitation for seized wildlife, including thousands of parrots and hundreds of primates, and offering wildlife conservation education to thousands of children. The center also employs local families, including former hunters and poachers, who collect Aframomum, a type of wild ginger, and sell it to the center to feed the great apes under its care.
● Vivek Menon, founder, trustee, executive director and CEO of Wildlife Trust of India, for a decades-long career training more than 20,000 wildlife enforcement officers in more than 50 countries; documenting, prioritizing and securing elephant corridors in India; setting up the country’s first wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center; and coordinating desnaring sweeps targeting poachers. One of the investigations Menon participated in led to the largest seizure of illegal tiger bones in Indian history and the disruption of several criminal syndicates. His textbook, “Wildlife Crime: An Enforcement Guide,” is required reading for all wildlife enforcement officers. Menon has contributed significantly to the work of CITES for the last 30 years, and spent much of his time as an advisor to the Indian delegation.
● Rameshwar Singh Thakur, deputy director for intelligence and coordination for India’s Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, for his role in overseeing efforts by enforcement agencies to combat national and international organized wildlife crime. Thakur pursued the creation of a wildlife crime database that incorporates real-time data to help analyze crime trends and develop effective deterrents. This information has helped wildlife law enforcement, forest and police agencies throughout India create profiles for nearly 2,000 poachers. Thakur also has led or assisted with high-profile enforcement operations netting dozens of arrests and resulting in the seizure of tens of thousands of mongoose hairbrushes, thousands of live turtles, and hundreds of shahtoosh shawls, among other contraband.
● Julius Kariuki Kimani (being honoured posthumously), former director of Parks and Reserves for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), for his decades of service improving inter-agency efforts to fight wildlife crime, raising awareness within Kenya’s judiciary about the importance of wildlife protection, and enhancing intelligence to identify wildlife criminals and gangs. Kimani began his career as an assistant warden with the Wildlife Conservation and Management Department in Kenya (the predecessor of KWS) and rose through the ranks to become director of parks and reserves. He was pivotal in securing the integrity of parks and their ecosystems in Kenya by improving industry governance and strengthening law enforcement linkages to enhance conservation.
● Julius Maluki Mwandai, senior assistant director and head of investigations for the Kenya Wildlife Service, for mentoring thousands of wildlife law enforcement officers in Kenya and across Africa over several decades, transforming KWS’ paramilitary school into a distinguished regional wildlife law enforcement training institution, and demonstrating exemplary leadership in dramatically reducing rhino and elephant poaching in Kenya. Elephant poaching numbers in the country decreased from 384 in 2012 to 40 in 2018, and rhino poaching numbers decreased from 30 to 4 during the same period. In addition, nearly 10,000 wildlife criminals were arrested.
● Lorena Alfonsina Fernández, attorney general for the environment in Honduras and secretary of the Central American Wildlife Enforcement Network, for leading numerous successful wildlife law enforcement operations; establishing national law enforcement networks that contributed to an increase in joint inspections, prosecuted cases and judicial decisions enforcing wildlife legislation; enhancing intelligence sharing; and improving training for law enforcement officers and members of the judiciary. Fernández supported the development of a wildlife enforcement app in cooperation with the United States, and oversaw a critical operation in Honduras targeting illegal timber traffickers.
● Ross Galbraith, retired wildlife law enforcement officer for Environment Canada, for his tireless efforts over 20 years enforcing Canadian wildlife laws protecting fish, seabirds harmed by pollution, and other imperiled species, along with mentoring young officers and conducting enforcement training in Botswana. In 2009, Galbraith suffered a serious leg injury after a suspect ran him over while trying to escape. Although Galbraith was no longer able to do most physical fieldwork, he remained steadfast in the fight against wildlife crime. Since retiring in 2014, he helped create a charity, the International Society for the Advancement of Environmental Law Enforcement, to support wildlife officers and their families, particularly in developing countries, and was named the first civil society liaison to Interpol’s Wildlife Crime Working Group.
● Josefina L. de Leon, former chief of the Wildlife Resources Division for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the Philippines, for her critical role in strengthening wildlife law enforcement in the Philippines. De Leon created the country’s Wildlife Law Enforcement Manual of Operations, which provides the standards and protocols for law enforcement officials to implement the wildlife laws of the Philippines, along with spearheading the development of the Wildlife Law Enforcement Action Plan 2018-2028, which serves as a framework to combat illegal activities against wildlife in the Philippines. De Leon also established the Operation Group on Ivory to investigate ivory smuggling incidents and to take legal action against the criminals involved. From 2010 to 2018, the Operation Group’s efforts led to a total of 230 multi-agency operations resulting in the confiscation of 36,000 specimens of both CITES and non-CITES listed species and the filing of 114 criminal complaints or cases.
● PAMS Foundation and the late Wayne Lotter in Tanzania, for empowering individuals to protect wildlife and wild places. The foundation’s support for rangers and game scouts though anti-poaching training and aerial surveillance, and its collaboration with Tanzania’s National Task Force Anti-Poaching have significantly increased arrests and prosecutions of wildlife traffickers, including ivory trade kingpins “Shetani” Boniface Matthew Mariango and the “Queen of Ivory,” Yang Feng Glan. Lotter, one of PAMS’ co-founders and a prominent conservationist, was murdered in 2017 in Tanzania because of his anti-poaching efforts.
● Anti-Smuggling Bureau of China Customs for coordinating recent groundbreaking, intelligence-driven investigations, in cooperation with other enforcement agencies and stakeholders. These efforts led to the arrest and prosecution of major wildlife traffickers, including key ivory traffickers and totoaba bladder smugglers. The illegal trade in totoaba is directly contributing to the precipitous decline in the vaquita porpoise population in the Upper Gulf of California; today, only about 10 vaquita remain on the planet. Since 2017, investigations by the bureau, involving hundreds of law enforcement officers, have resulted in the conviction and sentencing of nearly a dozen suspects and the disruption of two major wildlife trafficking networks.
● Patrick Muhayirwa, Charles Syaira, Jonas Malyani, Pacifique Fikirini, Faustin Nzabakurikiza, Jean Byamungu, Barthelemie Mulewa, Théodore Prince, Liévin Kasumba, Kanawa Sibomana, Ila Muranda, Rachel Baraka, Kasereka Ezéchiel, Freddy Muliro, Hakizimana Chadrack, and Musubaho Maliro Antwi (being honoured posthumously), former rangers at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for making the ultimate sacrifice to protect wildlife. Wildlife rangers have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world as they pursue wildlife criminals in the city and in the field. Under often punishing conditions, rangers target those directly responsible for killing wildlife, along with the chain of people who pay, facilitate, authorize and ultimately profit from the crime. These 16 fallen rangers are among hundreds of wildlife law enforcement personnel across Africa who have lost their lives in the last three years in the line of duty.
Since 1997, 124 individuals and/or agencies from 38 countries have received the Clark R. Bavin Wildlife Law Enforcement Award, which is only given at CITES CoPs. This year, CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero presented the award at a ceremony hosted by the Species Survival Network.
The award is named after the late chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement. Mr. Bavin substantially elevated the fight against wildlife crime in the United States and internationally, pioneering the use of covert investigations and sting operations to expose illegal wildlife trade and advocating for the use of forensic science to identify and prosecute wildlife criminals.
“The world’s wildlife are under threat like never before from criminal syndicates, poachers and others who don’t hesitate to kill and capture wildlife out of greed and callousness, without consideration for the harm they cause to ecological function and biodiversity,” explained DJ Schubert, wildlife biologist for AWI. “Anyone who cherishes our wildlife heritage owes a debt of gratitude to those honored here today.”