Biologist, Conservationist, & Portlander. My passion lives in Africa.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Professionals in African Wildlife Conservation Reception - Lucky Me!

9:43 PM Posted by Tara Easter 4 comments

Last Thursday, the World Affairs Council of Oregon and Oregon Wild hosted 13 wildlife conservation professionals from 9 different countries in Africa who were touring America with the International Visitor Leadership Program. The purpose of their visit was to strengthen ties with organizations and supporters in America to unite against poaching and illegal wildlife trade. 

At first I looked around for Namibia's representative, knowing I would have plenty to discuss with him. Unfortunately, I discovered he was unable to attend this event. I wasn't sure where to begin, not having as much of a connection with the other countries' representatives. I decided to sit down and just observe for a bit, perhaps take notes on how to best introduce myself, when the woman next to me said hello.

We chatted for awhile about which organizations we were here with. She asked if I had volunteered with Oregon Wild, seeing my "Keep Oregon Wild" sticker in hand. I said no, but I'm a big supporter of their work. She replied that she was the Conservation Director's wife and asked if I would like to meet him. 

Perfect! A place to start (not to mention Oregon Wild just happened to open up a position that has my name all over it, fingers crossed). After talking with him about how he got involved with this event, what all Oregon Wild does, and how much respect he has for my boss at the Center for Biological Diversity (boosting my confidence in my upcoming application), it was time to get a bite to eat.

Choosing a random seat next to Mr. Ramalefo of Botswana, we discussed predator-livestock conflict over sweet potatoes and chicken. That's my kind of meal. Finally, it was time to formally introduce everyone and hear brief presentations.

Steve Pedery began with Oregon Wild, pointing out that the problems in conservation we face here are not too different than those in Africa. After bringing back wolves from the brink of extinction, we are still in a constant fight with ranchers and hunters to keep them protected.

Then came the first African speech by a national park official from Zimbabwe. He talked about their parks, their rhino, pangolin, and painted dog populations, and their partnerships between the private and public sectors. Then he mentioned their struggles.
People are looking after the rhino, and not after the people trying to protect them. These men are not military trained, but war-like combat is what they face. They have limited resources, little time with their families, and no incentive to keep at it. They need to feel like they've achieved something."

I, in a super selfish, privileged American kind of way, can relate to that feeling. I wanted to tell him about the Thin Green Line team. There are people who care, people who hear you.

Next up, Zambia. He echoed the plea for the rangers and took it a step further. What many people don't know about these armed poachers is who they are funded by, and who they are funding. Many times, these activities are feeding terrorist organizations. Why else would they risk their own lives for a rhino horn? And of course, there is always the issue of habitat degradation. As resources are used, human wildlife conflict grows.

The third speech was given by my dinner buddy, and while he seemed a little quiet person to person, he provided a powerful ending to the presentation.

"I am not here to tell you the sad story of Africa. I am here to tell you about the successes we've had, not only as Botswana, but as people."

Immediately, I'm on the edge of my seat. He spoke about legislation coming into agreement with science more often, and the Transfrontier Conservation Area which was agreed upon and is managed by five different countries. There are wildlife management courses in college, and an academy in Botswana for law enforcement where they discuss wildlife crime.

Though we have successes, there are still challenges."

We need to figure out a way to actually use the bit of training our wildlife rangers have received in the field.

We need to include our communities in our efforts to preserve wildlife so they are not enticed by money to support poaching.

We need to teach children about wildlife management, (at this point I wanted to stand up and cheer, but I sat there silently scribbling down every word, beaming about my involvement with KWCAO who is doing just that) and take them to our national parks, most of which they have never been to, even though they live so close.

We need to get media on our side and ask them to stop advertising poaching. By repeatedly saying over and over how much a horn is worth, and what poachers get from a single rhino, and how many elephants are killed a day, we do nothing but add fuel to the fire.
Law enforcement cannot do it all."

With a little bit of time left in the evening and my head bustling with questions, I spoke with as many of the men as I could. They were all so friendly, eager to make connections and hoping in general that the people they meet on this trip around America will be inspired to act. While all I can do for now is blog, I sincerely hope they achieved what they came here for: international cooperation to fight illegal wildlife trade.

They all asked when I was going to come visit them in Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Botswana...

"Soon." I said. "Very soon."


  1. Tara! That is absolutely awesome! I am so happy (and jealous!) that you got to attended such an amazing reception! Good luck with the application you're working on!

  2. Agood way to put the ideas to the public. Cheers for the good job

  3. Thank you so much! It was wonderful meeting you, and I hope you've had a great trip! Hope our paths cross again some day.