As 42 wildlife officials from 17 African countries made the short walk from the Commons at the National Conservation Training Center to a bus waiting to take them to the airport, they were greeted by a humbling sight:
Thirty-two state conservation law enforcement officials from 30 states, with whom they had been training at the International Conservation Chiefs Academy (ICCA), lined both sides of the path wearing the dress uniforms of their respective state agency.
The wardens from across the United States stood at attention and saluted as their African counterparts passed. When the last African had passed, the American wardens fell out and quickly made their way to the bus, where suitcases were being loaded, to exchange hugs and handshakes.
There were moist eyes on all sides.
The formal military send-off may have been puzzling to members of the general public, but it was universally meaningful to the African and American law enforcement officials, said Randy Stark, Executive Director of the National Association of Conservation Law Enforcement Chiefs (NACLEC).
“I think in any law enforcement or military realm there is high honor in duty, commitment, sacrifice, and respect” said Stark. “Those universal values pervade this line of work, regardless of where you are standing on the planet, and the presence of the uniformed officers is a symbolic expression of those values. It triggers an emotional connectedness among law enforcement officers all over the world.”
It was his hope the American and African officials would develop professional and personal relationships, and as the warm farewell embraces indicated, that happened.
“Building these types of relationships is our purpose,” Stark said. “The human connectedness is the currency we need to effectively combat illegal wildlife trafficking on a global scale.”
“It takes a network to beat a network” Stark said. The goal is that everyone will continue communicating throughout their careers, sharing information on traffickers and coordinating enforcement efforts across transnational borders. With that goal in mind, NACLEC and the ICCA have set up a network to sustain and enhance the relationships created at the academy. “This global connection, collaboration and information sharing is good news for wildlife both domestically and internationally, and bad news for wildlife traffickers wherever they are.” Stark said.