PONGARA, Gabon — U.S. Marines and Gabon’s Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux, or ANPN, worked together Sept. 14-25, at the Pongara National Forest to help the nation’s fight against wildlife trafficking.
At the request of the Gabonese government and through coordination with the U.S. Embassy in Libreville, the Marines and sailors with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa, trained with ANPN park rangers in infantry tactics to help build the nation’s capacity to counter trafficking of ivory and other animal-related products.
The training comes at a time when the elephant population has been dramatically decreasing across central Africa – faster than the elephants can reproduce, according to multiple news sources.
An Aug. 20 BBC news article reported the forest elephant population is down to 15,000 from 22,000 in Gabon’s Minkebe National Park, which is approximately the size of Delaware, due to high demand for the elephants’ ivory tusks.
Gabon contains almost half of all the elephant population in central Africa estimated to be nearly 100,000. This “presents an enticing target for traffickers, especially as wildlife populations fall elsewhere” according to a June 28 National Geographic article.
In February 2014, President Barack Obama outlined initiatives in the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking that calls for combined efforts to reduce the demand for these products while simultaneously curbing the illegal trade industry.
The strategy calls for “combined efforts from nonprofits, corporations, individuals, and foreign government partners, to make that happen.”
Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba is determined to rid the country of this problem and recently requested outside assistance to counter the activities that are destroying elephant populations in the central African region.
Staff Sgt. Ryan Nikzad, the SPMAGTF-CR-AF Gabon team leader, and his team of five Marines and sailors were in Pongara’s National Forest training 14 park ranger supervisors using the “train the trainer” model.
“Before the training started, the ANPN leadership took all of us out to areas where elephants and other wildlife roam and the tour goes to show their dedication to preserve the wildlife here,” said Nikzad. “Most of these guys have taken part in this type of training in past rotations. They are fighting criminals who have military-type skills and the tactical training we teach them, coupled with the train-the-trainer approach, will ultimately assist them in their fight.”
SPMAGTF-CR-AF Det. A is based out of Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, where they stage and prepare for theater security cooperation missions into various countries in Africa. This specific iteration is manned by Marines and sailors from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, permanently based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Coast Guardsmen from various stations across the United States.