Meridian alumnus combats wildlife poachers through force and social media

Following heavy poaching in recent years, only 750 rhinos remain in Zimbabwe.


I have a rhino; at least, an adopted one.

Her photo hangs behind my office desk. Bryce gave it to me last year when we were in Bozeman on the final day of his State Department International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) study tour. “Whenever you make the trip to Zim, I’ll take you to see her,” he pledged. Despite Bryce’s best efforts, I’m not sure he will be able to keep his promise. He didn’t have enough manpower to save Maria, another rhino.

Bryce Clemence runs Aggressive Tracking Specialists (ATS), a private company that conducts specialized anti-poaching training for game rangers in Zimbabwe. Its techniques focus on empowering wildlife law enforcement officials, with the understanding that the rangers on-the-ground are the key to long-term sustainable anti-poaching efforts. ATS works with anti-poaching units in Save Valley Conservancy, an association of over 20 private properties that span an area over 3,400 square kilometers.

Last year, Bryce was part of a 13-person delegation of wildlife conservation professionals from Sub-Saharan Africa who participated in a Meridian professional exchange that focused on anti-poaching and anti-trafficking efforts in the United States. The project was a deliverable of Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s wildlife conservation initiative. The group had fascinating discussions with park rangers at Yellowstone and forensics scientists at the National Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon. A couple of my Meridian colleagues and I also sat down with the participants to discuss how Twitter and other social media platforms could be used to fight wildlife trafficking efforts and promote animal conservation. Bryce certainly remembers Yellowstone, the Everglades and Crater Lake. It turns out that he remembers the social media discussion, too.

In a video posted to Facebook last week, Bryce detailed the final harrowing moments of Maria’s life, including how the mother rhino tried to shield her baby from her attackers. The video is the beginning of a campaign that Bryce and Save Valley Conservancy are initiating to provide training and equipment for rangers who are on the front lines of the trafficking battle. The illegal wildlife trade is the third most valuable illicit commerce in the world, after drugs and weapons, worth an estimated $10 billion a year. Poachers are well-funded in their efforts, and the rangers who are risking their lives for Maria and other wildlife are struggling to keep up.

The video has already been shared over 500 times on Facebook. Nonetheless, Bryce is hoping to augment his campaign through Twitter and the other social networking sites that we discussed during his exchange.

Whether I actually make it to Zim or not, I’m going to do my best to help Bryce keep the promise he made with me last year in Montana. If you have aspirations of visiting Zim or anywhere else in Sub-Saharan Africa and would like to actually see rhinos, elephants and other wildlife, you might want to support his cause as well.

Watch Bryce’s video here: Bryce’s Video

Support the Save Valley Conservancy here: Save Valley Conservancy Donations