In October 2018, a specialist team from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) travelled to KwaZulu-Natal South Africa to train local wildlife rangers in crime scene investigation, coordinated by Wild Tomorrow Fund and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
The five DEC Environmental Conservation Police Officers (ECOs) volunteered their time and paid their own travel expenses to conduct the wildlife crime scene training in support of global efforts to fight the illegal wildlife trade. The team developed and taught a practical 4-day curriculum on wildlife crime scene investigations to rangers from South Africa, Mozambique and eSwatini (formerly known as Swaziland).
Topics covered included:
Securing and sketching a crime scene
Crime scene photography and reconstruction
Techniques in the detection and collection of evidence
Fingerprinting, DNA collection, casting impressions
Mock poaching crime scene scenarios and exercises
New York experiences in wildlife investigations.
The training was held at Wild Tomorrow Fund’s partner reserve, Tembe Elephant Park, a 75,000-acre government reserve run by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife in South Africa, bordering Mozambique. The park is currently home to an estimated 220 elephants, with 14 breeding herds and emerging ‘tusker’ elephants, some of the last remaining large-tusked elephants on the continent.
DEC Commissioner Seggos said, “Our ECOs employ advanced techniques in crime scene reconstruction and forensic evidence collection to uncover wildlife crimes in New York on daily basis, and I applaud this special convoy of officers who volunteered their own time and money to travel abroad and help end the killing of endangered animals for their ivory. New York continues its vigilant enforcement efforts to stop the killing of animals for art, and this is just one more action that will help to stop illegal ivory sales.”
Richard Schutte, Conservation Manager at the Tembe Elephant Park, said, “Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area Initiative are proud to be partnering with DEC, Wild Tomorrow Fund, and the Peace Parks Foundation for this specialized wildlife protection course. This is a chance for law enforcement officers from five different countries to get together, network and share ideas, and the skills learned and transferred will help us better protect our wildlife in this critical time.”
“KwaZulu-Natal is currently embroiled in a syndicated poaching epidemic that is testing the resources and morale of all involved. Every bit of support in the fight to protect our wildlife is another step in turning the tide. Forensic training is of great value to the staff and teams active on the front-lines, a wonderful example of inter-governmental cooperation.” said Richard Schutte, Conservation Manager at Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa.
John Steward, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Wild Tomorrow Fund, said, “To protect elephants, rhinos and other species threatened by the illegal wildlife trade, rangers in southern Africa need specialized training on preserving and collecting evidence at a poaching crime scene. We are excited to be a part of an international collaboration that will see African Rangers and the DEC law enforcement team working together to fight the illegal wildlife trade with forensic science. We are thankful for the continued commitment of Governor Cuomo and the DEC in protecting threatened and endangered species around the world.”
Wendy Hapgood, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Wild Tomorrow Fund said, “It is wonderful to see law enforcement officers and rangers from five countries working shoulder to shoulder to fight the illegal wildlife trade. This unique course ensures rangers have not only the practical skills necessary to correctly process poaching crimes scenes, but also the tools and equipment that they need on the scene. We are proud to have been able to coordinate this specialized training and equipment donation for our partner reserves in southern Africa.”