A Talk on the Wild Side.
What do 162 kilograms, or more than 350 pounds, of smuggled elephant tusks, two corrupt officials, a Congolese park ranger, and training conducted by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement’s Branch of Training and Inspection have in common?
The answer is a lot!
Jose Blanchard Bokandza (at right, photo courtesy of Republic of Congo, Ministry of Forest Economy and Sustainable Development) is a park ranger and coordinator for the Republic of the Congo Anti-Poaching Surveillance Unit. He is also the first recipient of the U.S. Department of State International Law Enforcement Academy’s (ILEA) Outstanding Operational Success Award, one of three awards celebrating the program's core efforts. The award was presented to Coordinator Bokandza during a ceremony that also launched the ILEA’s newly created “ILEA Alumni Portal.” He was recognized for his successful wildlife investigation, during which he effectively used skills learned at the Wildlife Trafficking Investigators Program (WTIP) he attended at the Gaborone ILEA (Botswana) in 2014.
WTIP is a wildlife investigation training program the Office of Law Enforcement branch developed and has conducted yearly since September 2002. During the course, ILEA participants learn advanced wildlife crime investigation skills from experienced law enforcement officers.
Coordinator Bokandza at his 2014 ILEA Gaborone WTIP graduation with former Director J.O. Smith.
Students are trained on a variety of topics such as how to conduct criminal investigations in the field using surveillance, the collection and preservation of evidence, interviewing techniques, and identifying smuggling indicators. These skills are then used by conservation officers to plan and conduct field investigations and in enforcement operations that apprehend those involved in the illegal poaching and trafficking of wildlife.
With support from the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, we conduct international training programs and missions throughout the year and throughout the world. These programs are designed not just to build skills and capacity but to focus on the building of enforcement networks with partner agencies and countries so that limited resources can be leveraged to better identify, target, investigate, and dismantle transnational criminal networks. With each course, each student, and each country that participates, the network continues to grow so that rangers, officers, inspectors, and investigators around the world are working together to take on organized criminal networks and better protect wildlife worldwide.
But these enforcement partnerships do not end when the course ends. We build on our commitment to the graduates by hosting in-person and virtual alumni events and creating other new opportunities for alumni to stay engaged. These forums provide opportunities for participants to learn from each other, continue their personal development, strengthen their professional friendships, and share vital information among alumni. We are also increasing opportunities to highlight the case work and investigative successes of alumni, like Coordinator Bokandza. The goal is not only to celebrate the good work being done but to share experiences so that international relationships remain strong and information sharing, coordination, and cooperation continue indefinitely. Wildlife trafficking is a global issue and it takes a united global law enforcement effort to fight it.
An African elephant family group in a rainforest clearing. Photo by Richard Ruggiero/USFWS
"Speaking on behalf of the Service, we applaud Coordinator Bokandza for his field work that led to being honored by this prestigious award,” said the Branch of Training and Inspection Special Agent in Charge Bruce Kindle. “Coordinator Bokandza credits the skills he acquired through his ILEA training in part to the success of his work. His outstanding field work demonstrates why this training is so important. It not only assists field officers to investigate and provide solid documentation to secure successful prosecutions but ultimately because it disrupts criminal enterprises and saves wildlife.”
Through our International Affairs Program, we also provide technical and financial support to many of the protected areas where rangers such as Coordinator Bokandza work. This complements the law enforcement training by providing core operational support for more effective park management and law enforcement as well as continued, on-the-job training opportunities.
The ILEA’s Outstanding Operational Success Award recognizes alumni who exemplify the ILEA’s goal of building skills to combat transnational organized crime. These alumni leverage their training in support of their organizations, achieve operational success, and share their successes with the Department of State.
So, what do those things have in common? Coordinator Bokandza used the skills he learned and honed at the WTIP to conduct an investigation that led to the arrest of two corrupt officials who were actively facilitating the transport of ivory. He seized 162 kilograms of smuggled elephant tusks and documented that the officials had transported hundreds of kilograms of illegally harvested ivory across the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, and Cameroon. As a result of his investigation, the traffickers were tried, convicted, went to prison, and their criminal wildlife trafficking syndicate was dismantled and stopped.