Ofir Drori, a 36-year-old Israeli, was awarded this years’ World Wildlife Fund for Nature Duke of Edinburgh Conversation Medal for his courageous work against animal trafficking in Africa. According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature international director Jim Leape, “It is thanks to people like Ofir Drori that we still have a hope of keeping vulnerable elephants and other wildlife populations thriving – and keeping a spotlight on the poaching crisis that threatens them. I applaud his bold and impactful work.” The World Wildlife Fund for Nature Duke of Conservation Medal is viewed by environmentalists to be one of the most coveted awards for wildlife conservationists.

Over the past decade, Drori has been the founder and director of The Last Great Ape Organization in Cameroon and the Central Africa Wildlife Law Enforcement Network, which both have spearheaded hundreds of arrests and prosecutions of wildlife criminals that harm, abuse, and slaughter endangered animals for economic profit. As CNN reported, “Ofir Drori uses covert networks to track and prosecute animal poachers, traffickers, many with links to war lords. Drori’s efforts are all to stop the mutilation and death of these animals […], many of them endangered, for consumption and illegal trade. For years and years, people killed them with absolutely no fear of arrest. Then, in 2003, Drori founded the Last Great Ape Organization and the first conviction for illegal animal trafficking took place in Cameroon.”

According to the Jerusalem Post, Drori first arrived in Cameroon to start writing about apes with the intention to take a break from documenting human rights abuses in Nigeria, activism which caused him to receive death threats. It was there that Drori discovered that “the extinction of apes was not such a simple story to write” and what was supposed to be a brief break turned out not to be so short. One of the primary causes of ape endangerment Drori discovered was “the complex network of organized crime behind the animal trafficking system, which involved powerful people and the cooperation of the police.” Despite the fact that a law against animal trafficking has existed for the past nine years prior to Drori coming to Cameroon, these laws were up until recently never enforced. The situation was not much different in other Central and Western African countries.

Then, one day, in the city of Yaounde, Cameroon, Drori witnessed an atrocious scene that compelled him to dedicate his life to this issue. Drori reported, “In a remote small town with extensive ape trade, I was led to an infant survivor of the bush meat trade-a baby chimp, tied up, abused and sick, in a dirty room. His eyes were like those of human babies, but nobody seemed to notice. It was horrible and I knew that if I do nothing, he would die. When the local authorities refused to act, I bluffed the poachers into handing over the captive chimp. […] I named him Future, because that is what I wanted to give him and what I want to give his species. […] That special day I saved Future was the day I decided to stay and pioneer a Wildlife Law Enforcement NGO fighting to save the last great apes from extinction.”

After experiencing the joy of saving Future, the Last Great Ape Organization went on to spearhead the arrest and imprisonment of over 450 wildlife criminals within the Cameroon alone. Drori then went on to establish the Central Africa Wildlife Law Enforcement Network, with the goal of spreading the good work done by the Last Great Ape Organization into other African nations. This organization presently has branches in Congo, the Central African Republic, Gabon, and Guinea. Drori claims that three more African countries will be joining this list next year. The details regarding all of his experiences in Africa are published in his memoir, The Last Great Ape: a Journey through Africa and a Fight for the Heart of the Continent.

Reported by: Rachel Avraham for United With Israel

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