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Former Military Officer Fights African Poachers

Ofir Drori is a former Israeli military officer, who says he fell in love with Africa when he was a teenager. Today, his work in the region is putting poachers and traffickers of endangered species behind bars. He now lives in Cameroon and is the co-author of a new book called The Last Great Ape.

Ofir Drori traveled to Kenya between high school and the start of his military service. He's been fascinated ever since.

"I chased giraffes, zebras. I saw all these interesting things. I was just zigzagging through all these beautiful things, all this beautiful world," said Drori.

On his first day there, he wandered around and got lost. A Maasai family found and eventually adopted him.

He says his fascination with the continent turned him into an activist for endangered species.

In the past four months, he says, Cameroon alone has lost 400 elephants to poaching and gorillas are faring even worse.

"Illegal wildlife trading is a professional, very well organized illegal trading. It's a mafia. This Mafia drives chimpanzees, gorillas, lions to extinction," Drori explained.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Washington says elephants and gorillas are being poached for their meat and elephants for their ivory. The result is extinctions in some areas of central Africa. But WWF also says some progress is being made in the southeastern part of Cameroon.

With his network of spies and informants, who pose as buyers or traffickers, Drori gathers video evidence of poaching.

Ten years ago, he founded LAGA(the Last Great Ape), which is also the title of his new book, co-authored with his best friend David McDannald whom he met in Kenya.

He says his team has been able to oversee 50 prosecutions for ivory trafficking and 25 for gorilla poaching in Cameroon since 2004. But he says catching poachers is not his biggest challenge.

"The major problem in fighting wildlife crime is corruption," said Drori. "These are big people, they have a lot of money, they are trying to bribe their way in different places and that's what we do. We fight corruption."

It's dangerous work, but whether his hair is being pulled by a chimp or he's preparing a snack for another one in his kitchen, he says making a difference is what counts.

"Every time you have some kind of injustice, you realize that I can make a difference so responsibility is how I arrive to this," Drori added.

Drori's program has been replicated in six countries: Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, Chad, Nigeria, and Guinea.
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    Mariama Diallo

    Mariama Diallo is a senior reporter covering national and world affairs for Voice of America in multiple languages. She was recently the VOA acting bureau chief for the agency's West Africa office.