For me it all started with an email from the Veterans for Wildlife team on Christmas Eve, asking if I would potentially be available to travel to Cameroon in order to deliver law enforcement training to Rangers in that country.

 

Being a bit ‘Bah humbug’ about Christmas, this brightened my day no end and I immediately said yes! Once the initial administration was out of the way and my deployment was confirmed, a hectic few weeks followed getting the necessary jabs, and visas, while familiarising myself with the training material. Not easy when it’s all in French!

 

Janek, my fellow instructor, who is still serving in the Metropolitan Police, was soon on board as well and we went to meet the Veterans for Wildlife team in London. We received a brief on the ethos of Veterans for Wildlife as well as some good advice on what we could likely expect in Cameroon.

 

Towards the end of February, we finally deployed and were met in-country by Glen, the third member of the training and a member of the Veterans for Wildlife permanent staff. The next few days flew by with briefings from our colleagues from the Zoological Society of London and securing supplies for the week ahead in the Dja Biosphere Reserve.

 

On arrival in Lomie, our home for the next seven days or so, we met the Regional Administrator. He needed to provide the final approval before we could start training and working with the Rangers, known locally as Ecoguards. With the necessary authorisations in place, our work began in earnest!

 

On meeting the first batch of 20 Ecoguards, Janek and I found them to be highly motivated, very keen to learn and armed with lots of questions. The Ecoguards’ enthusiasm is a real credit to their organisation and their country, as they are seriously under-resourced in terms of equipment and training and operate in a hugely challenging environment. Over the course of the following week, we trained two courses of Ecoguards in basic law enforcement procedures. Covering areas such as how to properly record evidence, safely and thoroughly searching people and vehicles, as well as managing a crime scene.

 

What the training highlighted was that there are many Ecoguards that are keen, willing and able to undertake further, advanced training. By working with ZSL and the Cameroonian Ministry of Forests and Wildlife, Veterans for Wildlife can enhance the Ecoguards’ ability to tackle the poaching crisis in a more structured and methodical way. Integrating tactical patrolling skills, intelligence gathering and investigations in one holistic approach. Ensuring that the Ecoguards go on to operate more efficiently with the limited resources that they have and to continue to build capacity for the future.

 

The longer-term goal is for some of those individuals who undertook the basic training course to undertake a ‘train-the-trainer’ progam. As the solution to the problem of poaching must ultimately come from the people of Cameroon themselves. With suitably qualified and skilled individuals in their own ranks, the Ecoguards can go onto disseminate best-practice and lessons learned throughout the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife countrywide.

 

On a personal level, I found it a wonderful experience. Working with good people, who are passionate about protecting wildlife. The Dja Biosphere Reserve is beautiful, but you have to accept that there are few home comforts. That said anyone from a military or police background will probably have experienced much worse and would be right at home in this environment.

 

ZSL were perfect hosts and project partners - nothing was too much trouble. Indeed, on our last day, they arranged a trip to the Mefou Primate Sanctuary where young primates, made orphans by poachers, are taken to be rehabilitated. Eventually, when these animals are old enough and have suitably recovered, the aim is to return them to the wild. Seeing first-hand the very animals that we and the Ecoguards are working to protect was a fantastic way to conclude the project and left me feeling a great sense of purpose and achievement for the part we have played to date.

 

I seriously urge any other former police or military personnel interested in supporting this work and contributing to the prevention of wildlife crime, to reach out as soon as possible!

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