The 2011 winner of the Future for Nature award was announced in Arnhem, Netherlands, earlier this week. Ofir Drori created an inspirational and pioneering charity called The Last Great Ape Organisation (LAGA) in Cameroon, West Africa.
The Future for Nature award acknowledges individuals who embody an approach to conservation that is entrepreneurial, innovative and shapes the future of conservation.
Ofir and his team focus their efforts on the illegal bushmeat (wild animal meat) trade. Each year in Central Africa between 10,000 and 20,000 tonnes of gorilla, chimpanzee and bonobo meat is sold illegally.
Intensive logging and mining operations in the Congo basin have facilitated and expanded the trade, because they open up large tracts of this important tropical rainforest that had previously been untouched. New roads to transport timber and minerals are also used as bushmeat trade routes, and provide access for cheap transport to move large quantities of bushmeat to urban centres.
Once adult apes have been killed for meat, their orphaned progeny are sold as pets. They rarely live for very long, unless they are rescued and cared for by specialist ape sanctuaries that are now an unfortunate necessity. Great apes have low reproductive rates so any hunting pressure at all reduces their populations to critical levels. All four species of African great ape are considered Endangered or Critically Endangered by the IUCN.
The Last Great Ape Organisation investigates wildlife crime in Cameroon. They provide support for government officials to be able to prosecute criminals who try to sell not just illegal bushmeat, but animal skins, ivory from forest elephants, and live animals such as African grey parrots. LAGA ensures that prosecutions are transparent by providing legal assistance, as well as making sure these cases have as high a profile as possible by using the power of the media, photographs and film to act as a deterrent to others.
In the last few months alone, three dealers have been arrested in Cameroon for trading in elephant tusks, and five wildlife dealers arrested with a primate and seven sea turtle shells.
This vital work is not without its dangers. Just last month a LAGA employee working undercover was kidnapped by ivory dealers. Thankfully he was rescued unharmed, but this incident only highlights why Ofir Drori and his Last Great Ape Organisation are so deserving of this prestigious award.
For further information on the illegal bushmeat trade, see: Recipes for survival: Controlling the bushmeat trade. (2006)
Nick Cockayne, ARKive Assistant Editor