Gabon is home to a full array of African animals, such as gorillas, chimpanzees, and elephants, and has historically served as a haven for wildlife due to the country’s relative stability and comparatively isolated habitats away from human population centers. Since gaining independence in 1960, Gabon’s economy has been heavily dependent upon oil exports. However, today that industry is in decline, forcing Gabon to diversify its economy. New roads and rail networks are bringing an influx of workers into previously remote regions, causing an alarming rise in poaching, logging, and commercial trade in wildlife.
Similarly, as new sources of minerals, oil and gas are discovered, the conflict between natural resource exploitation and environmental protection and conservation is intensifying, as is pressure on many of Gabon’s most valued and endangered species. To help address these emerging environmental issues, in 2002, Gabon established its national parks system and the Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux (ANPN, National Agency of National Parks), now the cornerstone of Gabon’s conservation efforts. Conservation efforts across Africa are of great importance to US national security; the illicit funds earned through poaching and wildlife trafficking are often connected to international criminal organizations and terrorist financing. In January 2018, the New York Times reported that the Gabonese Government busted a major ivory smuggling network with ties to Boko Haram.
A US Army civil affairs team (CAT), the first of its kind to operate in the country, is working to build partner capacity and support institutional development in support of Gabon’s counter illicit trafficking (CIT) and counter poaching efforts. Thus far, the CAT has been conducting week long training sessions with the ANPN rangers – also known as the EcoGuards – in various national parks. According to the US team leader, “During these training events we teach tactical and operational level methodologies to support ANPN CIT efforts and assess the current capabilities of the ANPN to identify gaps and needs.”
The largest deficiency identified by the US team is the inability of the ANPN to effectively equip their EcoGuards due to financial constraints. EcoGuards are typically limited to a single uniform and commonly lack proper footwear and field gear despite regularly conducting extended, multi-day patrols. In addition to providing training, it is crucial to equip the ANPN with the necessary gear to conduct effective CIT operations.
By donating to Spirit of America, you are not only providing the country of Gabon the means to protect one of their most precious natural resources and a source of economic dollars through tourism, but also helping the United States counter illicit trafficking that directly affects US security.