Women Play Key Enforcement Roles in Combatting Illegal Wildlife Trafficking Globally

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Some days Margaret Kasumba works in an office in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. But some days the 39-year old mother of three packs her AK-47 and heads to the bush, often on short notice if she gets a report of a poaching incident.

 Margaret Kasumba

Margaret Kasumba

She is a manager of law enforcement at the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

“Sometimes we find the animal there. At times we recover guns. At times we remove snares,” she said.  Usually by the time they arrive, the poachers have left.

“Most of the arrests take place when we go for extended patrols,” she said. “When we spend so much time in the bush they (poachers) are not aware that we’re out there.”

Kasumba is one of seven women among 42 wildlife law enforcement officials from 17 African countries, and 32 conservation law enforcement executives from 31 states across the United States who are studying for two weeks in the U.S.  The course is in the Washington, D.C. area,  but includes some time in Colorado.

They are from five different countries, Cameroon, Gabon, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia, and the states of Maryland and California, but say their male colleagues and families are supportive, and they have all risen to high positions.

Kasumba, who holds a bachelor’s degree in law as well as certificates in wildlife management and criminal investigation, worked for a period as a prosecutor of wildlife violations. There was a hierarchy among poachers, she said. The poachers they caught in the bush were poor and couldn’t hire a lawyer. The ring leaders in Kampala were well off from their activities and would get good lawyers.

“We really battle it out with them. You have to make a good case,” she said. Her husband supports her enforcement work, even though it may mean being gone for several days. “He supports conservation,” she said. And public service. “He is in the Army.”

Also, her job means another paycheck. “Why would he feel bad? We support each other to bring up our little family,” she said.

 Ngalie Maha

Ngalie Maha

Naglie Maha of Cameroon now occupies an important position in the east African country. Since 2015 she has been in charge of sport hunting in the country, an activity, she says, which brings in $1 billion annually, at the high end of their estimates.

She has a masters degree in wildlife population analysis, and taught at a school for training wildlife specialists, teaching classes that included wildlife economics, hunting and game ranching, and “alternatives to bush meat”.  In the latter class she encouraged people to grow guinea fowl and other domesticated animals. The surplus animals that are not consumed by the families can be sold to generate income so they can afford to send their children to school.

But Maha, whose words were translated from French by an interpreter, said it is difficult for women to work in conservation fields in Cameroon because it often means extended stays in remote areas. This is especially hard for women who have a husband and family, she said

“I am the only woman in the entire Sahel region in a decision-making position,” she said.

 Michelle Ngwapaza

Michelle Ngwapaza

But Michelle Ngwapaza of Gabon, whose background includes writing environmental impact statements for forestry and oil projects, as well as studying man-elephant conflicts in national parks, said women are entering conservation fields.

Encouraged by government policies, the number of women in conservation positions has grown to about 10 percent over the last 10 or 15 years, she said.  “The policies are trying to make sure that women are more and more in positions of responsibility. Women are more and more involved,” she said, through a French translator.

“Women are free to go into the field. To collect data. Do the patrols,” she said.

Ngwapaza, who is currently the director of Studies, Programming and Communication at the General Directorate of Wildlife Protected Areas, said her young male colleagues accept her. For some older male co-workers, “it’s more complicated”.

Georgina Kamanga of Zambia, who has 21 years of law enforcement and is Head of Intelligence and Investigations for the Department of National Parks, said about 20 percent of the people working in conservation fields are female, and expects that percentage to grow.

“Before it was a man’s thing, but this time around women are realizing that it’s something they can also do,” she said.

Nancy Foley a retired warden who is a coach for adaptive leadership at the academy said she was initially surprised to see the number of women among the African law enforcement agents the first year she taught. “Initially I was surprised because I had a different perception of the culture, but I think it’s great,” she said.

Foley, 58, said when she became a warden, it was unusual to have a female in that position and there was some male resentment.  When she retired she was the Chief of Law Enforcement and Deputy Director for the California Department of Fish and Game.

She said she is impressed with the female African Conservation Officers. “They’re really quality officers. I’m proud to stand beside them.”

Jenifer Ikemoto, 47, a Captain with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, with 20 years in the department, 17 in law enforcement, said Foley helped pave the way for women who came after her, like herself, but women are still a small minority in enforcement in the department, and she felt she was held to a different standard than the men, especially at the beginning of her career.  “It hasn’t been too bad, but for California being so progressive, I still felt I had to prove myself. I had to make sure that I worked twice as hard,” she said.

Now they are starting to see more women apply for conservation law enforcement positions.

Wednesday, Sept. 13, was National Women in Law Enforcement Day, which recognizes the contributions women make in law enforcement around the world.

Their ranks are growing.

Margaret Kasumba said Uganda welcome women in their conservation law enforcement community, but that it takes a special breed.

“We are trying to empower more women, we are looking for women who are good and courageous, because it is hard work.”

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The ICCA training is jointly coordinated by the National Association of Conservation Law Enforcement Chiefs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).   The purpose of the ICCA is strengthen international law enforcement relationships and collaboration in combatting illegal wildife trafficking globally.