In collaboration with the State Department, and as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), Meridian implemented an African regional project focused on fighting wildlife crime and conservation. The project brought together thirteen park rangers and wildlife protection specialists from nine different countries in sub-Saharan Africa to participate in a range of site visits and meetings across the United States. This visit allowed the wildlife conservation professionals to exchange best practices in supporting wildlife protection, and anti-poaching and anti-trafficking efforts with their American counterparts. The international visitors were able to gain insight into public and private sector wildlife conservation practices in the U.S. through meetings with representatives and game wardens from all levels of government. Similarly, American park officials and wildlife conservation experts were also able to gain new perspectives from their African colleagues on common issues. After Washington, the group traveled to Miami; Portland and Ashland, Ore.; Yellowstone National Park; and Bozeman. Each stop highlighted the U.S. collaborative approach to fighting wildlife crime, and demonstrated cooperation among the NGO community, academic institutions, and state-level law enforcement agencies and personnel.
In Washington, meetings acquainted participants with some of the anti-poaching initiatives and activities of international NGOs; the schedule also introduced them to the roles and responsibilities of federal agencies responsible for domestic wildlife conservation. A discussion was hosted at Meridian and was attended by over 100 DC-area community members. The keynote address was delivered by the State Department’s Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, Robert Hormats, after which two international visitors from the group joined other wildlife conservation experts as panelists. During the panel discussion, which highlighted collaborative efforts in combating the poaching and trafficking of wildlife, the group was able to interact with some of the U.S. players involved in wildlife conservation efforts.
The participants were able to observe the important role that volunteerism plays in bolstering environmental protection efforts. While in Portland, the group visited the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, one of the few urban national wildlife refuges in the United States. During this visit, the participants volunteered alongside U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees and community members.
As a result of their IVLP experience, the participants from Kenya and Zimbabwe plan to integrate elements of volunteerism into their respective organizations, and other members of the group plan to integrate participation in service projects into their communities.