Interview of Ofir Drori ― Resistance Radio

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(Sound of chimpanzee)

Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen and this is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Ofir Drori. He is the founder of LAGA the Last Great Ape Organisation, an enforcement non-governmental organization that fights corruption in order to bring about to the arrests and prosecutions of major wildlife criminals dealing in endangered animal species. LAGA’s award-winning model for a wildlife law enforcement NGO started in Cameroon and is now replicated in the Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and Gabon. In 2005, based on the experience of fighting corruption in the judiciary and the forces of law and order, he has founded another NGO, called Anti Corruption in Cameroon, or ACCameroon, which focuses on establishing Anti-Corruption law enforcement in Cameroon, and involving citizens in the fight against corruption through direct legal action. He is a co-founder of The EAGLE Network, which is leading the fight against wildlife crime with more than 2,000 significant wildlife traffickers jailed to date, fighting corruption to break complicity and ensure justice. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the World Wildlife Fund Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Medal.

So first off, thank you for your extraordinary work, and second, thank you for being on the program.

OD: Thank you, Derrick. Glad to be here.

DJ: So can you talk first about – I guess define trafficking in wildlife and then talk about the scale of it and the harm it causes?

OD: Sure. People don’t really understand, but illegal wildlife trafficking, illegal wildlife trade is the fifth largest illegal trade in the world. It fetches a lot of money, unfortunately. We know a little bit about the ivory trade. That is something that is known. But there’s also illegal trade in lions and leopards, for the skins, as trophies. There’s also illegal trade in some of the birds we can see as pets, one here and one there. We don’t really understand it. We are talking about a thousand parrots, half of them dying on the way, in a shipment coming from Africa to supply this market.

There are magnificent creatures called pangolins. They’re sort of ant bears, for people who don’t know what pangolins are. They are mammals and their bodies are scaled and the scales are worth a lot of money. They are fetching a lot of money in Asia and China and Vietnam and are really featuring in illegal trade. Each time we see more and more animals that we don’t expect to be killed for anything, really, re-entering into this kind of industry of illegal trade. Therefore they’re assimilated really fast and that leads us towards extinction for many of those animals. This is the illegal trade in wildlife trafficking we’re talking about, and most of it is organized crime. It’s very well organized and sometimes connected to other forms of crime, like drug trade, like arms trade, and others. These kinds of mafia organizations undertake this trafficking. They’re good at it, far better than anyone else, and they are accelerating the race towards extinction of these animals.

DJ: It seemed to me that the story of how you got started in fighting this was an example of some of the problems you’ve faced with the corruption. I’m thinking of that first baby chimpanzee. Do you want to briefly tell that story?

OD: Sure. Of course. That’s the source of my passion for this fight. I was an adventurer criss-crossing the African continent, looking for adventure and trying to find wisdom and tap into those ancient ways and learn more from tribes that were living in isolated areas, different cultures that still survive. And it turned me into an activist, just trying to give back to this continent that gave me so much. And therefore, as an activist, I was trying to do my best, moving from country to country, just trying to do something good. And so, I was developing different skills as a part of that. And at that time I was trying to write about human rights in Nigeria and it got a bit risky, and I crossed into Cameroon, basically to take it easy. And I was thinking one good thing I could do with my time was write about the extinction of apes. The illegal trade in ape’s meat was leading to their extinction and I had in my mind a sentence from Jane Goodall that said that in 20 years from now, we’re going to lose gorillas and chimps from illegal trade in their meat. It’s called “bush meat.” Basically the meat of chimps and gorillas is considered a sort of exclusive, sort of like a caviar, if you’d like, of the jungles of central Africa where these animals live.

And so I crossed into Cameroon and started writing about this problem I thought I would have a meaningful interaction with, and it was pretty easy. I volunteered in a sanctuary of apes and spent time with the chimps and realized how much they are like us, how sensitive, how unique these animals are, so close to being human with such an emotional world, social world, that it really makes you wonder about the differences between the animal world and ourselves, and how we usually perceive ourselves to be so far away from it. The chimps are kind of challenging that.

And then I went out and was trying to go into the market and trying to look at the illegal trade and there were actually ape parts being sold; ape hands and ape bodies and so on. It was sold by the same police officers, the same wildlife officers who were entrusted to protect those animals in the first place. So the corruption was really out there, and I joined this check point and I wrote about that and saw how in the check point cars were stopped and when they were seizing ape meat they were just reselling it back to the traffickers. So corruption was really undermining the application of the law. There was a law in Cameroon that gave up to three years imprisonment to anybody even touching a chimp. And I was asking the question: If everything is corruption over there, the same enforcers of law are those who are running the illegal trade, how many times was this law applied over almost a decade that it was in place? And the answer was “zero.” It was never applied. Zero wildlife prosecutions, zero arrests of wildlife traffickers. That isn’t surprising when you look at the corruption that undermines the enforcement system and the judicial system. And therefore after two or three weeks I already had 80% of a 20 page article that I wanted to write, and get out this message about this problem to the world. And it was very clear that chimps and gorillas are so much like us and they are endangered and they are racing towards extinction and it is because there is illegal trade in their meat. And because there is corruption and the law is never applied, we have a far deeper problem.

So I was looking for the light at the end of the tunnel with this article and my stay there. My idea was to write this article and to direct the public to those who are fighting against this dark prophesy that in 20 years they’ll disappear. Those activists in the field are fighting against all odds and trying to direct the public to say “Please help them,” and that’s how you’re going to have something meaningful out of reading my dark article. So the light at the end of the tunnel was what I was looking for. Therefore, I was going to the NGO’s, to the nonprofits, to the conservation world. I was knocking on those doors of the big conservation organizations, knocking on the doors of the international community, environmental programs, and I couldn’t get answers. And when finally I got answers – instead of answers, I got huge buildings, huge castles, but nothing concrete. And when finally I got answers, these were the answers.

The answers were: “Enforcement has nothing to do with us. We are just doing seminars and workshops and sometimes buy jeeps for the government, but that’s it. We don’t touch enforcement. That’s not our role.” And I was pretty shocked, because I was looking for activists and I found maybe the opposite. And I continued to dig into it. I was asking about corruption and no nonprofit official – they were all afraid to even pronounce the word “corruption.” So I was running into a far bigger problem, because I thought conservation was the solution to this problem, and then I realized that conservation was a bigger problem. Dysfunctional, sometimes corrupt, and definitely not directed towards what needs to be fought. And not having that kind of activist approach that I was sure was there for anybody who is trying to fight to save these animals.

Therefore I left to a small town. I was frustrated. I was kind of stuck in my article. I went out of the capitol, four hours out, into a small town, and I could immediately find people who told me “here is gorilla meat and here is where we sell chimp meat,” and that’s how the trade is going on, “and we also have two live ones.” Basically the two live ones they were talking about were survivors of the illegal bush meat trade, the trade in ape meat. And it was basically when a poacher goes and starts killing, starts shooting down a chimp or a gorilla, he’ll end up killing a family of chimps or gorillas because they protect each other. And if you shoot a mother, a baby would cling to the mother’s body, because the babies are completely dependent on their mothers for the first three years or so of their lives.

So if a poacher kills a mother, the mother falls onto the ground and the baby won’t run away. He’ll still be very dependent, like a human baby. So he will cling to the mother and start crying and crying, and the poacher will hold him in his hand and decide: “Maybe I can kill him right now with my machete for the small amount of meat he has on him, or maybe I can try my luck in the pet trade. Maybe I can try to sell him as a pet.” And with that option, these babies have a little bit of time before they end up dead anyway.

And I went to the first one, they took me to one of the two live ones they were talking about, and it was a baby gorilla, and when we reached there the baby gorilla had already died. And that’s how gorillas are. They’re very sensitive. You’ll give that baby gorilla milk and water, everything physical you can give, and if you don’t give that baby gorilla love and attention, it will just snap and die.

And then I continued to the baby chimp, the other baby they were talking about, the other live one. And I went there and there was this baby chimp, one and a half years old, really tiny. And they were treating him like a rat, poking him with a stick, and he himself was acting like a rat. His emotional world was kind of locked. That’s the way chimps survive that gorillas can’t, so they can stay alive a little bit longer.

But this one was about to die. He was really sick. They tried to sell him to me and of course I wouldn’t do that. I wanted to rescue this baby chimp, but if I would give him the money they would just go back to the forest and hunt some more, knowing that there is more demand.

So I went to the wildlife officers, the wildlife station, and I said “Look, there is a baby chimp here, we need to rescue him, we need to save him, he could die. There are people breaking the law. You need to apply the law.” And they basically told me “Well, give us money.” And I said “Listen, you don’t understand. There is this baby chimp. The law is on the wall, here it is, written in a poster that is on your wall. You are the ones to apply it. It’s your job.” And they said “Well, what will you give us?” Totally corrupt.

After half an hour of arguing and trying to persuade them to do their jobs, they were telling me “What’s your problem, white man? You want a baby chimp? We will sell you another baby chimp.” So those wildlife officers were themselves traffickers. So I went back to my motel and I couldn’t sleep that night. I knew I had to save this baby chimp who is just one and a half years old and is at risk of death. So I couldn’t sleep all night and I wrote all my anger on a piece of paper, all my anger at corrupt African governments, at the corrupt conservation world, and at the ineffectiveness of the entire system. I started writing out all my anger at what is wrong in the system, all that I hated and was frustrated about. And during the second half of the night, I started asking myself “What did you expect to find?” So I started writing what I thought should be, and that would be an organization based on activism. Local activists, patriots. People of the country who would fight to change their country. Fighters, not conservation career people. Those who would fight to fight corruption, to get these laws that have never been applied, now applied, into application. And they would have the kind of organization that would have an investigation unit that would go and have undercover investigators infiltrating those networks and finding, not the small poachers, but those police officers I saw. The corrupt ones who are orchestrating everything. And then would also have an operations unit. Not just give information to the same corrupt police officers but supervise them and take them by the hands to do their jobs and make them do them, and fight bribing attempts in the field.

And then a legal unit, that would follow up all these cases in court, because the courts are as corrupt as the police officers and the wildlife officers. So the organization will have to follow up these cases and take responsibility for intercepting those corruption attempts, block them, and act as a bodyguard to these entire enforcement and legal systems. Even visit those traffickers in jail to make sure they’re still there, because they can bribe their way out.

And then a media unit that would actually publicize everything, and show that the law is applied and create some deterrent, for every action that is an enforcement action, advertising that the law is applied.

So I wrote this entire thing overnight, and the following morning I went back there and I said to the warrant officers “Just give me the book of law. I know you’re afraid of these guys. Just let me have it, and I’ll take the baby chimp.” And I went to the house of those traffickers that offered me this baby chimp and I took the book of law and I put it on their table and I said “Read it. Three years imprisonment for anybody even touching a chimp.” And they looked at it. And they looked at me. And they were totally unimpressed. So I said “Look, I know that this – the law – is nothing for you. This is just a bribe of, what; two or three dollars? I know what it means. But this is exactly my new job.”

Then I started bluffing them, using what I wrote during the night. I said “I’m a part of this big new organization and what we do is we fight corruption to get the law applied, and all my job is to make sure you don’t bribe your way out of this law. And we contacted a judge and the judge is waiting for you.”

At this point, they went totally hysterical. My bluff worked very well. I acted as if I was calling an imaginary headquarters and said “Yes, they are ready, they are cooperative, you can tell the judge everything is ready. Yes, there is a car. The car is coming to take you. That’s okay.” And the bluff worked very well. At one point I was telling them “You know, if you remain my informants, maybe you’ll tell me more about those who activate you, who are higher up than you in the illegal trade, then maybe there will be something I can do for you.” And they were just pleading for me to help them.

At this point, of course, they just wanted to get rid of the baby chimp. And I went there, to this tiny baby chimp who was tied by the waist. He had a wound in his waist from the rope. He was in a dirty kitchen and I untied the baby chimp. Everybody thought he would run away because they were treating him like a rat and he was acting like a rat. But I knew what was inside him. A baby. So I untied him from his ropes and held my hands outstretched, and he climbed my body and gave me one big hug around the chest. And in that second, he turned back from a rat into a baby with a full emotional world opening up, and the needs of a baby.

And that was it. That hug was permanent. He chose me as his foster mother and father, and from that second it was impossible to separate us because he was holding on to my body the whole time. I named him “Future” because that’s what I wanted to give him, a future, this baby chimp. And I went back to the capitol, thinking still that I’d give my plan that I’d spent the last night writing, for somebody else to do; give this baby chimp to a sanctuary; and then continue to move from country to country as I’d done before as an activist. But no sanctuary would take Future, and this baby chose me, and I quickly realized that I wasn’t just there to give a future to this baby chimp, but to try to fight for the future of his species. And so I would say that Future the baby chimp forced me to apply exactly what I had written the night before and open the first wildlife law enforcement nonprofit in the world at that time.

So that’s my story, and that’s my passion towards this fight.

DJ: So one of the reasons that you are one of my heroes is because a lot of people feel bad about things, and a lot of people can have good ideas. I mean, I have a friend who is desperately sad because the prairie dogs in Colorado are being wiped out, and instead of just feeling sad about it, she gets up every day and fights for the prairie dogs. And that movement from just feeling bad about it to actually doing something; I just want to tell you explicitly how much I respect you for that.

OD: Thank you! But you know, I think people who are doing those kinds of things, who I would call activists, are not much different from anybody else out there. All of us are angry about something. All of us are frustrated about things we see around us: our communities, our environment. A variety of things. Environment, our environment, Africa, the U.S., it doesn’t matter. We’re all angry. But most of us are able to zap to the next station, or to the next thought. People neutralize the possibility of action by thinking “I can’t do anything. There are some professionals out there, they do that. I am not able to make a difference. I am not able to make change.”

And I think the difference between an activist and those who are not yet, is just a small difference. A small experience of actually trying and seeing how easy it is to make a difference. Anything that you do actually does make a difference.

That’s how it was with me, because I was an adventurer and I was moving around, having adventures, all across Africa, in isolated and pristine lands. And I was just trying to give back. It was surprising, the first times, how easy it was to do something like that. Once you take the first steps – for me, it was, whether teaching in a school or helping in farmland for one of those tribes, into helping in internal operations, into writing. These were all experiences that were just showing me that yes, it is possible. Just take your time and you can make a difference. Once you realize that it’s possible, this possibility becomes also responsibility. Your responsibility to participate in change, participate in shaping your communities, and in shaping your environments.

So I’m trying all the time to connect with people and explain that. Activism for me is a way of life. It is so much more fulfilling than those I see around me. And the truth is that it’s so easy and so obvious. But people keep having those feelings of “No, we can’t do that. There are others that can do that, other professionals. I’m just a guy.” But all these changes are happening because of “just guys.” So just try to do it. Realize that you can contribute to a change that will make a difference.

DJ: You mentioned pangolins earlier. A couple years ago, I interviewed Maria Diekmann, who does a lot of work to both stop trafficking in pangolins, and also to rehabilitate pangolins. And her story of how she got started was that she’d read about them and she was complaining to a friend of hers; “God, this is so terrible, it’s so horrible what’s happening to them.” And he just said “Well, so do something about it.” And there you go. She did. And she’s devoted her life to pangolins ever since.

OD: (Laughing) Yeah. I think it’s like that. If I look back at different fights that we’ve had, in wildlife, in human rights, in democracy, none of this was one big win or one big fight. It was all just small contributions. Some people think that the real difference is that you’re not able to change the world, but the truth is that nobody does. You don’t change the world. You just make your own small, tiny contribution. And it ends up, it does end up mattering. That’s the message I always try to send. I wrote a book called The Last Great Ape and in that book, one of my biggest messages, the reason why I wrote it, about my adventures and understanding my path to activism is because I do want to influence more people out there, people who have that feeling that they do want something to change. But it’s hard for them to make the first step. I’m trying to use my experience to communicate with anybody out there. Just try. Not something big. Not something huge. Just try to make one step. Try to make one small difference, and you’ll see how fulfilling it is, and how meaningful it is for you.

DJ: So in a couple of minutes I would like to talk about a recent victory with the arrest of the elephant traffickers, the ivory traffickers. But before then, I’m wondering whether you can say just a little bit more about how you went from this idea of an organization to actually having the organization itself. Was it easy to find allies once you stepped in? Or was that difficult? How was that process of moving from a person with a great idea and a chimpanzee attached to your chest to someone who is actually working with law enforcement? How did that transition happen?

OD: Well, it was a hell of an adventure. It was a weird mix because I was a father and mother to a baby chimp, and at the same time I was trying to look more serious and go to the government and try to talk about that, and build the political framework for it. That was always a huge contradiction. I remember Future the baby having nightmares at night, because they do have memories of the killing of their families. So Future would sleep on my chest at night, with a diaper, and I would feel his eyes moving, shifting to the sides each time, and then he would jerk away and be jumping, trying to get milk. Obviously he could not, but he would try to suck my body, and try to find comfort in that. He would often give me these hickeys. And I would go to the Ministry during the day and try to look respectable and talk about opening an organization and meetings, and I would have these hickeys on me. That was pretty embarrassing, and when I would try to explain this, that I share my bed with a chimp, that would not help with trying to build a credible image.

It wasn’t easy. It was a big fight. There was great resistance to this idea, of course. There was corruption all around and we were trying to shake things up. I had nothing. I had no money, we had no office, no car, no computers, no budget. Basically nothing. All I had was an idea. And that was fantastic, because that filter was great, having nothing. Because that meant no one would be attracted to my orbit just because they thought they could get a job. The only ones who would be in my orbit and come closer to me and try to understand what is going on would be people who needed something other than money, and not a job. And that was a great filter, because the only guys who would come closer would be people who needed something else. Maybe a sense of achievement, maybe from a sense of patriotism. Maybe from a need to show themselves they can do something good, something beyond themselves.

And so I started getting Cameroonians at that point. You know I started in Cameroon. People who would have their own pure motives, simply because there was nothing else. When we first tried to apply it, it was equally crazy. Our first operations were completely violent, went in all directions. I didn’t know what to expect. There were many failures in the beginning, many risks. It felt like everyone was against us. The traffickers, the government. Everyone out there. Even the conservation community was against us. Everyone was against this happening. But we pushed through and we were persistent. And together, with this group of local activists, we managed to make it happen. After a few months, we managed to get – without money and without anything, just a group of activists managed to get the first ever wildlife prosecution in the whole of central and western Africa, in the whole of forested Africa where these apes live.

DJ: Before we get to the elephant question in a moment, this also seems – I mean, you’re going against people with a lot of money involved. Has this been dangerous for the people on the good side?

OD: Yeah. 100%. We’ve had that all along. We had that at the beginning and we’ve had that until now. We have risks not just from the traffickers but also from corrupt police officers, from corrupt wildlife officers. We experience that all the time. Physical risks, political risks, legal risks. The machine is definitely fighting back. Having threats like “When I get out of jail I’ll kill you” is something trivial for us. It’s just a part of our work. There have even been attempts on the lives of some of the people. But we push through, you know?

I’ll give you an example from Gabon, one of our countries. One of the activists, a legal advisor, has been in an operation, in an arrest operation. He was trying to catch a trafficker. The traffickers were outside. The police officers who came with the operation tried to sabotage their own operation. The legal advisor was left alone trying to chase a trafficker who ran away. And as he was doing that, the trafficker went around, moved around and shot him in his behind. It was Christmas and the guy spent Christmas in the hospital. He was interviewed for television and said “I’m going to get better and when I do, I’m going to find this trafficker who ran away and I’ll put him back in jail. The fact that he shot me only makes me a stronger activist and stronger in this fight.”

And you know what? That’s basically what happened a few months later. So that is an example of the risks and kind of spirit of activism that we have in our community.

DJ: Now let’s jump to this recent success. Can you tell me about the recent arrest having to do with elephants?

OD: Yeah, sure. I spent my Christmas in the Ivory Coast, where we were trailing a big criminal syndicate. I talked earlier about organized crime. Here is an example. This is a criminal syndicate that is connected to Vietnamese organized crime and has a presence in at least seven countries that we know of. They have been engaging in many criminal activities that we know of, and this is one of them. We started investigating that along with the US authorities. But for a long time they were not really advancing on these investigations. There are many seizures. You see the seizures of containers of ivory, but no one gets arrested. And this specific syndicate was engaging in a specific method of trafficking and that’s how we knew how much they were doing. They were hollowing out pieces of timber and putting ivory inside and covering it with wax. Then they would put it in a container and then exporting it immediately.

We looked at this criminal syndicate and realized that this syndicate was active for a few years, and probably in charge of exporting tens of thousands of elephants . Any of these containers would have 100, 200, 300 elephants every time a container goes. So they had their own empire, and poachers they employ and their own methods. We tried to attack it in one of the countries their operation was installed in, in the Ivory Coast, and tried to find the heads there. We had a few leads and we were surveilling the major trafficker and collecting more information about him. And finally, with the Ivory Coast authority and a special unit called UCT (transnational organized crime unit) we finally managed to arrest this one trafficker, the person who was in charge of all of this operation, or at least the Ivory Coast station of this operation.

I managed to get a lot more information from him to try to take us to other countries and also assist in arrests in Asia. After that we managed to find more of his collaborators and his operations. The first one arrested was Vietnamese. We managed to arrest another Vietnamese and a Chinese and some others who were helping them. In total, now five traffickers, an entire trafficking ring out there with pangolin scales and with ivory and others.

But what was interesting for people to understand was how criminal the ivory trade is, how much organized crime we’re talking about, Mafia-like kind of activities. In this ring, we’re continuing to investigate six different illegal activities. For example, they were carrying – we got to seize four illegal firearms. There was one investigation on small arms illegal trade in circulation and how they got that. And we have another full investigation on their drug-related activities. They wanted to have a farm of marijuana and other kinds of drugs that they could export to Europe from the Ivory Coast. They were connected to three different tax havens as they were doing money laundering. So there’s a financial investigation going into all these activities of money laundering.

But maybe the more kind of shocking one for people, and the more affecting for me, was that they were trafficking women for prostitution in China. So basically they took girls from the Ivory Coast and moved them with fake passports to China, where they were probably held and their passports taken from them, where they were held against their will, to be prostituted in China. We are currently trying to reach out to those victims, and we have found some of the victims and are trying to rescue those victims.

So here is an example of criminal wildlife syndicating and what it means and what our work means, because some people think about wildlife trafficking in terms of poaching and poachers. We don’t deal with that level. We deal with the level of the traffickers, the international traffickers that are actually managing this, as a mafia, dealing with hundreds of poachers, and distributing not one or two elephants, but tens of thousands of elephants. Our main work is to try to locate and take down these families, these mafias, in order to protect Africa’s disappearing wildlife.

DJ: Thank you for all that. We have five or six minutes left. I know this is a longer question, but now that you are gaining these successes, how is the local support for your work? Are you having to fight a lot of the local people? Is it mixed? Are they supportive? How does that run?

OD: Well, when you say “local people”… We are now, as EAGLE, as you mentioned in the beginning; we are a community of activists. And most of these activists are local activists. We work in nine different countries where we have stable work, and we collaborate with many, many other countries across the world. But in each one of these countries, we are based on local activism. People who are Africans, that love their country, patriots. They want their country to be better. They want things to change and they want to protect their own wildlife natural heritage. So when you talk about local people, first of all what I see are activists. All of this community is communities of local people. If you’re talking about the police forces, they’re wildlife forces. If you’re talking about the bigger system, the fight still remains. It’s a constant fight and it’s a fight against corruption at all different levels. And there are many backlashes and I would say that in some of those cases we had to fend off, in some of the cases where kingpins were concerned, we had to fend off ministers who were trying to get those traffickers released.

Corruption goes up and these are serious mafias, so many times we have to arrest police officers and put them in jail. We have to get wildlife officers arrested and get them to jail, even high officials. Whether it is a general or whether it is a colonel, an ex-minister, a director of wildlife offices; these are people that we had to put in jail. Obviously these actions have backlashes, so this fight I would say is a constant fight. It gets easier with time, mostly because our local activists become stronger and more experienced, learning to expect some of these backlashes and learning to fight them at a higher level. But it’s a constant fight.

DJ: I’m sorry about that last question. I said it poorly. You answered it great. I said it poorly because I wasn’t meaning to imply the activists are not local. Here, I’ve done a lot of activism against deforestation. The activists fighting the deforestation were all local too, but the general population in a logging town will quite often end up hating us, even though we’re all local as well. That’s all I was getting at.

OD: I would say if you look at the general public, first, the general public in this country is not participating in this illegal trafficking. It’s not a general issue of behavior. In fact, many of these traffickers, the bigger ones, are foreigners. I think that in many cases we have good examples of how the public was captivated by the spirit of those activists, by what it means. And many of them are charismatic and can express themselves well. That has been the most successful. And I think the message that people were getting was not just about wildlife, but mainly about change.

I’ll give you an example. I was talking on a radio show in Cameroon many years back. It was just before an election. Th election was not free and fair at that time. And I was talking about that corruption in NGO’s and corruption in the nonprofit world, and all of a sudden somebody’s calling, because it was a talk show where people call in, and somebody calls in and says “You know, you need to put these guys who are fighting for wildlife, put them on our elections to observe them and we’ll have real elections.” The funny thing was that this was a state-run radio station, so the broadcaster was immediately turning off the phone and was afraid that soldiers would come to take him because definitely that was not a good thing for the president.

But it was very telling. What it told was that people always underestimate the change they can make. And by doing that the public showed that they made the connection. They realize that if change is possible in one point, in one sector, in one part of their lives, change is possible everywhere. You see, change is very catching. Change is very dangerous in that way. Because it shows the possibilities. It shows how easy it is to make a difference. That is one of the things that is most fulfilling for me, understanding that one ripple of change can cause many other chain effects. One ripple can continue and create more and more change. Not just in wildlife, not just in human rights or not just in democracy. And that’s, for me, the path of activism and that’s what it means.

DJ: This would be a wonderful place to end, but I have one quick question, which is: How can people who do not live in Africa – most of the audience for this is going to be Europe, the United States, Australia – how can they help you in your work? As well as following your advice and doing the local work, how can they help you?

OD: My first answer for it is a more general one in saying: Well, you know what? You can make a difference anywhere. It doesn’t have to be in Africa. It doesn’t have to be specifically on these specific species. It can be anywhere, because we’re all pissed off about something. Just cross that line from being pissed off to actually trying something. Just trying to make one step towards making a small difference and see how it works out. And that would help us, because that’s what we are all about, asking people to make those steps towards activism.

The narrower answer would be that wherever you’re at, open your eyes, go on the net, try to see if you see anything being sold as ivory. Anything being sold as a skin, a skull. Many of those animals are arriving through the illegal wildlife trade. Sometimes just small pieces of the picture, just one piece of ivory you’ve seen somewhere in a shop may connect us to far bigger criminal organizations that supply them. So we are relying many times on the public to investigate. Take some time and dig into things. Many times we’ve gotten tips from people who are just passionate and said “I just continued looking. I just realized that it exists and I just dug into it and looked more on the web, looked on the Internet and found something.” And many times it leads to a big arrest, so that can also be of great help.

DJ: Well thank you so much for your work. And I would like to thank listeners for listening. My guest today has been Ofir Drori. This is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.

Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen
No Responses — Written on March 4th — Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen

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