An Animals Best Friend – Ofer Drori

by David Kramer

When Israeli photojournalist, Ofir Drori, left for a trip to Africa, following four years in the Israeli army, he never would have imagined that this decision would change his life and that he would become an award-winning wildlife activist, spearheading the fight against the illegal animal trafficking industry in Africa.

While travelling to Cameroon, Drori was approached by a wildlife trafficker offering to sell him a young chimpanzee. The baby chimp was sick and abused and it was being treated like a rat. Drori’s visit with the police began with asking for bribes and ended with an offer for an additional illegal baby chimp. After telling the men marketing the chimpanzee that he represented an international anti-trafficking NGO, he threatened to lock them in jail for trafficking. They fell for it and gave the chimp to Drori and he named him Future.

Researching his experience later on, Drori discovered that in the previous 10 years, there had been few if any incidents in which forest-covered Africa’s many wildlife trafficking laws had been enforced. He also uncovered a massive illegal intercontinental ivory trade. According to Drori, corruption ruled African wildlife trade. Since his work began, Drori’s organization has been involved in more than 1,400 arrests and prosecutions of major wildlife criminals with one group alone singularly responsible for the killing of 36,000 elephants. Drori established The Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA) that was later replicated in nine countries forming The EAGLENetwork where Eco Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement led to hundreds of arrests and prosecutions of wildlife criminals.

Drori empowers a network of African activists to carry undercover investigations, conduct arrest operations, and implement legal follow up. In 2016 alone: • 286 wildlife and forest criminals were arrested in eight countries • 99 ivory traffickers arrested with the total of 1.5 tons of ivory, including more than 100 tusks and 263 pieces of carved ivory • 34 great ape traffickers were arrested with three live chimp babies, 68 chimpanzee skulls, 26 gorilla skulls and other body parts • The former wildlife head and the CITES authority of Guinea who was involved in large scale international wildlife trafficking and corruption for more than 10 years, was arrested • A large international trader involved in the illegal trade in CITES species such as chimpanzees, manatees and other primates, arrested in Guinea • A significant international bird trafficker was arrested in Senegal with 111 critically endangered Timneth Parrots and thousands of other endangered birds • Two ivory traffickers were arrested in Gabon with 206 kilograms (450 pounds) of ivory – the largest amount in Gabonese history. Drori has won several awards for his work.

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh bestowed on him the World Wildlife Fund conservation medal at Buckingham Palace. At the award ceremony, a WWF official spoke of Drori’s accomplishments and told the participants that, It is thanks to people like Ofir Drori that we still have a hope of keeping vulnerable elephants and other wildlife populations thriving – and keeping a spotlight on the poaching crisis that threatens them. I applaud his bold and impactful work. 

Much of what Drori and his team undertake to accomplish involves considerable risk. And although they have very strict security and contingency procedures, incidents do occur occasionally. He admits that, There are times that I really cannot sleep before we find an activist who has been missing for an hour. With operations in nine countries, that’s a huge responsibility for the lives of people. And indeed, in 2013, he had a near-death experience with a crocodile in Ethiopia. While recovering at a hospital in the coastal Israeli city of Haifa, he met his future wife. He continues to share his model with other activist groups in Africa and around the world and remains optimistic that corruption can be stopped and that the situation can improve worldwide. He has written a book about his experiences entitled The Last Great Ape: A Journey through Africa and a Fight for the Heart of the Continent.

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David Kramer

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