Jennifer Ikemoto knew that stemming wildlife trafficking was important. Part of her career with the California and Wildlife Department was spent with special operations unit focusing on illegal sales, although they dealt mainly with species native to California, particularly abalone, white sturgeon and their eggs, and bear gall bladders.
But training for a week along with law enforcement agents from 17 African countries has put a human face on international wildlife trafficking for her.
“The Africans conservation officers are our heroes. They have this unsurmountable plight to conserve resources. It is an uphill struggle with corruption and violations,” she said.
“They put their lives on the line,” she said.
Over the week they have developed friendships that will last, she said “I wish we could have been with them for another whole week…nothing compares with having a meal with someone, or sitting next to them on a bus, and hearing their stories.”
California has recently established a wildlife tracking team specializing in ivory and exotics. The state has a 2016 law banning the ivory trade. On Sept. 6, 2017, the Los Angeles city attorney announced that his office’s Environmental Justice Unit had filed three cases on alleged sales of ivory products from elephants and narwhals. Each violation carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $40,000 fine.
“We need to keep educating people that ivory smuggling is not just an African problem and these items are not just pretty pieces that should be put in a museum, she said. We need to stop being a market. We need to end this vicious cycle,” Ikemoto said. It’s going to take all of us.”
She has been with the department for 20 years, with 17 in law enforcement.
Currently, among other roles, she is Captain of the Professional Standards Unit and Training. Her duties include hiring new wardens, and finding qualified people who want to serve long-term in conservation law enforcement can be challenging. The Fish and Game positions typically earn less that other law enforcement bodies in the state, and as the state becomes more urbanized, fewer young people are considering careers as conservation wardens, she said.