The illegal wildlife trade is the world’s fourth largest black market, and at GWC, we’re focused on working with local communities to prevent wildlife crime before it takes place. This month we welcomed Wildlife Crime Prevention Officer James Slade to the GWC team. James is a long-time conservationist who engages crime prevention strategies with a holistic approach, working with local partners and authorities to create area-specific solutions. We chatted with James about his goals in his new role, the threat of wildlife trafficking and what he enjoys most about being out in the field.
Q. What are your goals in your new role with GWC?
A. I aim to bring my years of African experience in ground-level operations to the GWC team. It’s an amazing opportunity that I’m proud to be engaging in. I’m definitely excited to work together with such an incredible array of individuals, from a variety of conservation backgrounds and to have a positive impact in conservation on a global scale. I also feel that I need to do justice to those who have helped me get to this position through their support and knowledge over the years by giving this my best. If together we can make a positive difference for protected areas and the welfare of the rangers working there, then I will feel as if I can say my goals have been achieved.
Q. Why is it important to work with local partners and authorities on poaching prevention methods?
A. I think that it is easy to go into an area believing you have all the solutions. There are many considerations, though, including those that are cultural, political and environmental, for example. Strategizing with local partners, communities and authorities is integral to a successful result. Information and knowledge is a fundamental requirement in any approach to conservation, and that’s especially true for wildlife crime prevention. When working with law enforcement practices, a clear understanding of legislation, laws and judiciary procedures is imperative. For situational crime prevention, knowing the communities you are engaging with and the peoples surrounding a protected area is vital. Local partners can help provide all this knowledge. There is no need to try and reinvent systems that have been successfully implemented for years. Instead we must use those systems to augment that which can be adapted to the area. I believe in collaborative efforts to achieve the same goals. I believe in unity.
Q. How does wildlife crime prevention differ from wildlife crime enforcement?
A. Like any conservation effort, there is no single solution, no one-step action that will fix the problem. Enforcement is an element of prevention, a response to an active threat. Crime prevention, as an approach to protecting species and environments, must look at solutions that are not only reactive, but proactive. Identify the threats, assess every detail and address the issues from the root sources, as opposed to incident response alone. Our direction for wildlife crime prevention will engage this by implementing long-term, comprehensive solutions.
Q. What is your favorite part of working in the field?
A. I’ve always said to anyone who will listen that the best part of this job is that every day is different and every day I get to be outside. While that is certainly true, I must admit that the opportunity to work with so many rangers, field staff and conservation professionals in their own areas of operation, in different countries and on different continents, really is a dream come true. There’s no better feeling than joining rangers on patrol in new and unique environments and learn from them the specific challenges they face, and what it means for them to work in this field.
Q. Why is it so important to support the welfare of rangers working on the front lines?
A. The role of the game ranger, the field scout, the conservation officer or whatever title has been given, is so vital in my view and yet I’ve witnessed so many times where the individual is disregarded in favor of being more of a conservation ‘tool,’ just another element of the operation. These are often men and women who have joined this field because it is a job, a way of supporting their families, of surviving. Yet, over and over again I am taken aback at how passionate they become in this role, how proud of who and what they are. Others are individuals who do this solely because of that passion, they have sacrificed so much of their time, effort and financial security because they cannot imagine doing anything else. Too many lose their lives in this role. So, they are more than just a part of the operation, they are individuals with dreams and aspirations of their own. I respect that immensely. This is why there are so many of us in the conservation world now pushing to ensure better security for these women and men. We want to see better resources available, better means of insuring protection for them and their families. The role of the ranger is a global one and we are all working toward bringing this community closer together, for the all benefit of all.
Q. How do you measure success in poaching prevention?
A. You can measure success by the same method for any conservation effort, by impact. By the tangible results of the work being done. This can be very difficult in this field however, as the best result is when nothing is happening at all. If there are no arrests, no infractions and no incidents, it is an indication the area is stable, secure. Which, of course, for a lot of operations is difficult. Try fundraising for a project that has very little in the way of ‘results’ from their anti-poaching unit! The role of wildlife crime prevention isn’t without its hardships, however, for we have examples of wanton destruction with its many casualties in this line of work. We are direct witnesses to too much death. I am grateful, though, that I have been rewarded by working in locations exhibiting extremely encouraging results. Not by virtue of my work alone, but through concerted team effort and great support. I’ve been on a rhino reserve in an intensive protection zone that has had a population increase of 300 percent. I’ve worked in an area that went more that two years without losing a single elephant to poachers, in a region that has lost 75 percent or more of its total in the past 10 years. To me, this is success. This is an indication that our efforts are never in vain. That we can have a positive impact.
Q. What’s your favorite species?
A. This is a question you inevitably get asked a lot when working in conservation, and thanks to the planet’s biodiversity, probably one of the toughest to answer. Where do I start? I really admire any of the Hippotragus or Oryx antelo