How is it that an individual can have more impact on African wildlife law enforcement than high profile nature charities?
I meet an exceptionally dedicated man whose remarkable achievements are a loud and clear testimony to the individual's power to make a change in the world.
Ofir Drori is a revolutionary whose criticism of 'traditional' conservation's failure has brought to light the grim reality of foreign aid wasted. A man who dared tell the well meaning western world that corrupt African officers are benefitting from foreign aid and not the innocent, desperate animals.
Originally moved by Jane Goodall's ominous warning of gorillas and chimps disappearing in less than 20 years unless bushmeat trade stops, Drori found himself in Cameroon. It took very little time for the cruel reality to hit him. While recognising 'how human like chimps and gorillas are', Drori painfully witnessed 'meat sold openly, the authorities collecting bribes and taking part in the trade..shockingly, for a decade there was not a single prosecution of a wildlife criminal in almost all Central and West Africa..searching for the light at the end of the tunnel, I found a far bigger problem - a conservation world of waste and ineffectiveness focused on workshops and per-diems rather than hitting the major obstacle to the application of law, as well as all other conservation work - corruption'
Drori movingly tells how 'In a remote small town with extensive ape trade, I was led to an infant survivor of the bushmeat trade - a baby chimp, tied up abused and sick, in a dirty room. His eyes were like those of human babies..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..'
'Why don't we get this kind of action from big conservation charities?' I ask, 'is the environmental movement failing?'
'I think that the environmental movement has brought a lot of the current crisis on itself' he replies. 'Conservation, in striving to become more of a profession, lost its moral basis. From a movement based on values we were reduced into a utilitarian argument..we were taught to love nature for its intrinsic value, it was connected to loving the country.. no a days environmental education is reduced to a utilitarian value of what is to be preserved - an equation of how eradicating all frogs will lead to mosquito bites of the individual, how a polluted river will end up in a water glass of the individual..'
After congratulating Drori on his much deserved Duke of Edinburgh conservation medal, I am curious to know what his message to leaders David Cameron or president Obama would be.
'It will be about corruption in Africa..how foreign aid has done so little for the African people due to corruption..how most of what we try to solve in Africa ends up to have corruption as its root cause..I will tell them that governments around the world do not need to give more money for conservation or for development but make their aid more effective and protect it from corruption..'
'Your work is a testimony to the power of the individual' I tell Drori, 'what can individuals moved by your actions do to help?'
I am not surprised when this humble man does not ask for donations. 'Raise awareness and ask NGOs for more' he says passionately. 'Ask them what they have done to get wildlife traffickers jailed..hold your governments to account.. while it will be very hard to find a European that is FOR ivory trade, European governments still vote against elephants and FOR ivory trade to continue in UN conventions. it only happens because citizens are not involved and allow their representatives to go astray..the number of wildlife traffickers jailed in the whole of europe in the past decade can be counted on one hand, it is outrageous that Europe is the weakest enforcer of wildlife law worldwide and having the weakest legislation..if citizens ask their MPs about this, Europe will be forced to enact an appropriate legislation and maybe even get a trafficker or to in prison for a change..'
Considering Drori's reluctance to ask supporters for money, I wonder where his funding comes from.
'In the beginning' he explains, 'I got into big debts starting LAGA and getting the first ever wildlife conviction for almost all of central and west africa.. from that time things have slowly improved.. our donors include - US Government Fish&Wildlife Service, The Born Free Foundation, The Arcus Foundation, ProWildlife, and many more smaller donors.. last year we rejected more donations than we accepted. We reject donations from an industry connected to the nature of the problem we try to solve as we believe conservation NGOs taking such money are in conflict of interests, we reject a donation where the donor takes a "commission" on our grant and does not report this "overcharge".. there are many ill practices in the donors world and we have constantly rejected funds on ethical grounds. last year we refused 75,000 USD from zoos that refused to disclose information about their donation to the public..
'we are very critical of the big conservation organizations for a reason..we accused them of being gloated and ineffective and sometimes even corrupt..we keep on pushing them to change - clean themselves from corruption and start working with measurable standards of success or failure..charities are not transparent and accountable enough..'
I wonder what his actions would be if he were to become the head of WWF
Drori's reply is swift and typically direct. 'I would shift anti-poaching efforts to a strategy hitting big traffickers and ensuring convictions, I would inject activism into conservation, become transparent and introduce measures to reduce corruption within my institution and put efforts into fighting corruption to make conservation work..'
After reading the words of Richard Dawkins about man's self assumed superiority over the animal world and after speaking with zoologist Desmond Morris, animal rights activists Gary Yourofsky and Brian May among others, I realise that we humans, are finally developing a genuine understanding of our fellow creatures. Like Drori aptly says 'beyond preserving a species, each individual animal is a world by itself'.
Speaking of Future, the baby chimp he rescued ten years ago he adds movingly '..being so inquisitive and expressive, it was difficult to ignore the value of his thoughts and feelings..'
'Our enemy' he concludes, 'is our lack of action.. our indifference..we need to demand more from ourselves as a society and as individuals..'
Throughly inspired, I could not agree more..