By Kevin Chapla
The Department of State and the Gabonese government have established a partnership to help protect Gabonese wildlife and the country’s natural beauty across thirteen national parks. This effort is supported by the Department’s Africa Conflict Stabilization and Border Security Regional Program, Embassy Libreville’s Office of Security Cooperation, and U.S. Army Africa have partnered with Gabonese law enforcement and the Gabonese Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux (ANPN).
“Gabon is beautiful. The national parks are uniquely diverse, filled with wildlife, and natural resources,” said John McGuire, Embassy Libreville’s new economic officer who oversees the partnership. “My office leads a partnership with EcoGuards from the Gabonese Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux to reduce illegal poaching and wildlife trafficking. The program is critical to promoting the rule of law, an essential component of a healthy, stable economic system.”
The counter-poaching program includes community outreach and field training at the EcoGuard Instructor Training Academy (ITA), a partnership between the U.S. Army Civil Affairs Team and the ANPN to develop the organization’s first group of certified park ranger instructors. Bringing expertise in counter-trafficking, patrolling, and community relations, the U.S. Army Civil Affairs Team embedded with EcoGuards for more than 70 days, beginning in April, to develop skills that are critical to the ANPN’s ability to disrupt wildlife trafficking networks throughout the country. The training occurred in three 21-day training cycles at Lopé National Park, and in August, the team traveled to Makokou, Tchibanga, and Libreville to observe the instructor graduates delivering training to rank and file rangers. The training allowed EcoGuards to hone tactical skills and practice community engagement techniques in realistic, stressful training environments.
By bringing in specialists and building partnerships among the Department, Department of Defense Civil Affairs, Gabonese officials, and law enforcement are creating positive results as they work together to preserve the natural resources of Gabon.
Kevin Chapla is a U.S. Army Civil Affairs Captain who was deployed to Gabon.