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For Release: Monday, October 15, 2018

DEC Commissioner Seggos Applauds Return of Conservation Officers from Anti-Poaching Trip to South Africa

Five New York Officers Trained African Law Enforcement Officials in Forensic Crime Scene Investigation Techniques

South Africa Training Trip Videos and Photographs

Environmental Conservation Police Officers Paid Own Travel Expenses to Support World-Wide Efforts to Protect Endangered Species

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today welcomed back five DEC Environmental Conservation Police Officers (ECOs) that traveled to South Africa on a 10-day mission to train local wildlife rangers in crime scene investigation to support global efforts to protect Africa's elephant and rhinoceros populations from illegal poaching. The officers volunteered their time for this trip and paid their own travel expenses to support New York's efforts to end the illegal ivory trade and protect endangered species.

Commissioner Seggos said, "Our ECOs employ advanced techniques in crime scene reconstruction and forensic evidence collection to uncover wildlife crimes in New York on daily basis, and I applaud this special convoy of officers who volunteered their own time and money to travel abroad and help end the killing of endangered animals for their ivory. New York continues its vigilant enforcement efforts to stop the killing of animals for art, and this is just one more action that will help to stop illegal ivory sales."

The trip nurtured partnerships between DEC and the non-governmental organizations protecting wildlife across the globe, providing New York ECOs with valuable on-the-ground insight into African poaching trends. In addition, New York officers had the unique opportunity to share knowledge of the global ivory trade with a host of law enforcement personnel from across the African continent.

Maj. Scott Florence, Capt. Jesse Paluch, Lt. Liza Bobseine, Lt. Karen Przyklek, and Inv. Edward Piwko traveled to KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, for the 10-day trip and delivered a course in wildlife crime scene investigations, including:

  • Securing and sketching a crime scene
  • Crime scene photography and reconstruction
  • Techniques in the detection and collection of evidence
  • Fingerprinting, DNA collection, casting impressions
  • Mock scenarios and exercises
  • New York wildlife investigations

The course was taught to several dozen anti-poaching Rangers from South Africa, Swaziland, and Mozambique, and was held at Tembe Elephant Park, a 75,000-acre government reserve run by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. The park is currently home to 220 elephants, with 14 breeding herds and emerging 'tusker' elephants, some of the last remaining large-tusked elephants on the continent.

Richard Schutte, Conservation Manager at the Tembe Elephant Park, said, "Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area Initiative are proud to be partnering with DEC, Wild Tomorrow Fund, and the Peace Parks Foundation for this specialized wildlife protection course. This is a chance for law enforcement officers from five different countries to get together, network and share ideas, and the skills learned and transferred will help us better protect our wildlife in this critical time."

John Steward, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Wild Tomorrow Fund, said, "To protect elephants, rhinos and other species threatened by the illegal wildlife trade, Rangers in southern Africa need specialized training on preserving and collecting evidence at a poaching crime scene. We are excited to be a part of an international collaboration that will see African Rangers and the DEC law enforcement team working together to fight the illegal wildlife trade with forensic science. We are thankful for the continued commitment of Governor Cuomo and the DEC in protecting threatened and endangered species around the world."

Since 1989, the population of African elephants has been cut in half, with just 352,000 savanna elephants still living today. The Wildlife Conservation Society estimates that between 2010 and 2012 alone, some 100,000 - nearly 96 every day - were poached across the continent to fuel the ivory trade. Ongoing aggressive efforts in New York aim to destroy one of the largest markets for ivory in the United States.

In 2014, Governor Cuomo championed a new law that banned the sale of elephant and mammoth ivory and rhinoceros horns in New York and strengthened the criminal and civil penalties for buyers and sellers whose actions are endangering elephant populations worldwide. Since the ban was enacted, DEC's enforcement actions have targeted 16 corporations and dozens of individuals, seizing thousands of individual ivory pieces with a total market value of more than $12 million. The majority of the nearly two tons of ivory tusks, trinkets, statues, and other items that were confiscated by ECOs over the last several years were destroyed in an ivory crush in Central Park (link leaves DEC's website) in August 2017 to bring public awareness to the plight of the African elephant.

As a sentencing condition in many of these cases, the defendants agreed to donate funds to wildlife charity organizations, such as the Wild Tomorrow Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, and World Wide Fund for Nature/TRAFFIC. In total, the donations amounted to more than $400,000 to support elephant conservation efforts.

As part of this trip, the Wild Tomorrow Fund supplied four fully stocked forensic kits to the African Rangers that can be deployed quickly in the field. These kits are funded by the forfeitures that are the direct result of New York State's enforcement actions. These funds have also contributed to supplying African rangers with gear for anti-poaching K-9s, cameras, uniforms and boots, wildlife collars for monitoring, and other equipment that helps these officers protect and conserve wildlife

ECOs documented their training and experiences throughout the trip, and those interested in seeing an inside look at the trip can visit DEC's Facebook and Flickr pages.

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