By Jason Koebler
Former poachers in the Republic of Congo’s largest protected area have pulled a 180, becoming protectors of the park.
Launched earlier this year, one of the world’s first “Poacher to Protector” programs has turned 28 former poachers into park rangers at Odzala National Park, a protected area that takes up more than 8,400 square miles of central Congo.
As part of the program, candidates had to confess to their crimes and turn in their illegal weapons. According to Leon Lamprecht, manager of the park, details of their crimes were instrumental in bringing down Ngondjo Thislain, a poaching kingpin who was recently sentenced to five years in jail based on evidence gathered through the program.
“They’ve played a vital role in performing research and monitoring functions on paramilitary groups,” Lamprecht said at an event announcing the initiative, held in Washington, D.C.
Nicole Mollo, African Parks’ director of philanthropy in the US, said that the information gathering aspect of the program has been vital to making a series of high-level arrests.
“What’s critical about this is the information that lies with these individuals, the intelligence gathering we can get. Without it, we’d be paralyzed on the ground,” she said.
The program has also allowed park rangers to infiltrate the paramilitary groups that often facilitate poaching. More....