Wildlife conservation champion Ofir Drori honoured by Duke of Edinburgh

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Ofir filming with Sean Stone

The prestigious Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Medal has been awarded this year to one of our generation’s great wildlife conservation heroes: Ofir Drori, Founder of LAGA - The Last Great Ape Organisation.

Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, presented the award to Drori for outstanding services to conservation and wildlife law enforcement at Buckingham Palace. Previous recipients of the award include the late Sir Peter Scott and the eminent field biologist Dr George B. Schaller.

This highly coveted and prestigious award coincides with the release of a new short documentary film by Sean Stone. Sean, filmmaker son of legendary Hollywood director, Oliver Stone, worked undercover with Ofir in Cameroon to profile LAGA’s efforts to address the plight of Africa’s great apes and expose the illegal and brutal bushmeat trade.

Registered in December 2002 by Israeli born Ofir Drori, LAGA was established as the very first wildlife law enforcement NGO in Africa dedicated to working with the governments of Central and West Africa to infiltrate and bring to justice the criminal gangs responsible for the rampant illegal wildlife trade. LAGA focuses on threatened species and criminal rings of wildlife dealers primarily responsible for the illegal bushmeat business, the ivory trade and the smuggling of wild live wild animals for the exotic ‘pet’ industry.

Despite the dangerous and life-threatening nature of his covert law-enforcement operations, LAGA had an almost immediate impact.

“Before LAGA’s arrival, Cameroon had stood on a decade old baseline of zero prosecutions under the wildlife law, a situation shared by almost all of Central and West Africa, while organized wildlife crime flourished with virtual impunity throughout Africa’s forests,” says Ofir.

With his dedicated and incorruptible team, Ofir developed a unique style and strategy that became a formidable force for wildlife protection in Cameroon integrating the fight against corruption into conservation work. Within seven months they concluded their first successful wildlife prosecution. Working as a tight-knit unit, often undercover and shrugging off concern for personal safety, LAGA has developed as a serious force for conservation in Africa.

Today LAGA is respected by conservationists worldwide and has an impressive conviction rate, securing the prosecution of a major wildlife trafficker every week. With an unprecedented success rate of 87%-97%, and many illicit dealers now behind bars, this effort is helping protect great apes, other primates, elephants and many more species where they belong in the wild.

LAGA’s model of establishing law enforcement networks is being replicated in four more countries in West/Central Africa. It is for this Herculean effort that LAGA and Ofir Drori have been recognised.

The Born Free Foundation is one of LAGA’s main supporters and has contributed to LAGA’S efforts for many years. Will Travers OBE and Born Free CEO said, “Wildlife remains the third largest commodity illegally traded worldwide, behind drugs and the arms trade. Often protected at the highest levels, the illegal trade’s negative impact on wildlife is well-documented. The on-going plunder of our wildlife heritage places enormous demands on Ofir and his colleagues. We must do everything we can to support this important work.”

Sean Stone’s graphic documentary is a unique insight into LAGA’s work and follows Ofir though the Cameroonian markets of Douala and Yaounde, gaining first-hand experience of the dangers and difficulties of his work. Sean has nothing but praise and admiration for Ofir saying,”This has been a real eye-opener for me, and it’s been a privilege to document. The extent of this abhorrent trade is unbelievable, with millions of animals dying every year to support fashion, unproven medicinal theories and morbid superstitions and desires. Working at the cutting edge to block such trade requires immense bravery and single minded determination, and when you meet Ofir you see what a remarkable and dedicated man he is.”

A recent study showed that five tonnes of bushmeat (including meat from chimpanzees) arrives in Europe every week, much of it from West Africa and the Born Free Foundation is deeply concerned not only at the threat to biodiversity but the risks to human health this represents.

Arriving in the UK from Africa to receive his award Ofir continued; “I hope this award highlights our message that the war against wildlife crime demands activism and a hands-on fight against corruption, if conservation is to win over greed. I have nothing but admiration and the greatest appreciation for all the activists that make the LAGA family and those who support what we do.”

The Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Award is a welcome addition to the fast growing collection of international awards which attest to LAGA’s growing reputation as one of Africa’s most effective wildlife law-enforcement initiatives. Other awards include: 2007 Interpol Eco-message Award, awarded to the Government of Cameroon for a LAGA collaborative investigation; 2011 Future For Nature Award; and most recently the Conde Nast Traveler Environment Award.

Sean’s remarkable documentary may be viewed at www.youtube.com/bornfreefoundation

To support the projects that LAGA are involved in, visit www.bornfree.org.uk/laga

For more information about LAGA, visit www.laga-enforcement.org

For more information about the Born Free Foundation, visit: www.bornfree.org.uk

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