It is not uncommon for people who visit Africa to describe the experience as life-changing. What differs, is what people do after the experience.
For Navy veteran John Garcia, nothing would ever be the same as his life took on a profound new purpose creating the non-profit Soldiers For Wildlife,an organization dedicated to combating the poaching crisis in Southern Africa by creating elite anti-poaching units, uplifting and educating local communities, and working to preserve wild lands.
WAN had the opportunity to speak with Garcia about Soldiers For Wildlife and what makes his incredible organization so unique.
“Soldiers For Wildlife got its name in order to pay homage to the rangers in Africa that have lost their lives fighting to protect not only their heritage, but our world’s most sacred treasures,” Garcia explained to WAN, noting that the organization is focused on making a difference the “right way,” which includes empowering and giving back to the local communities.
While temporarily delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Garcia and his partners are currently coordinating flights to return to Africa to finalize plans for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
In an unprecedented move, the local Chiefdom has granted Soldiers for Wildlife the ability to sign a 99-year renewable lease and to take over the protection of more than 150,000 acres of pristine wilderness in the Central Province of Zambia. Soldiers For Wildlife already protects 20,000 acres in the region.
Garcia shared that there are an estimated 10,000 poachers in and around Kafue National Parkat any given time. The organization’s increased land coverage is just east of the Park; all of which lie within the most poached region of the country.
While the land currently has no protection against trophy hunters and poachers, the goal is to ultimately have it serve as a safe haven for threatened and endangered species such as African wild dogs and elephants.
Sadly, COVID-19 has also impacted fundraising and constrained resources for this crucial project during this critical time.
“We need to rush to get it going during the dry season, so we need funds by the end of August in order to have the program up and running by 2021,” Garcia told WAN, explaining that not much can be done on the land during the wet months between late November and April.
Both a community and a conservation project, the initiative will create more than 80 jobsfor indigenous people, as well as invest in infrastructure that will benefit the local community, including the building and operation of the Dung Beetle Bush School.
“Looking ahead, a primary focus of our ongoing efforts will be education and research into minimizing our footprint and allowing the ecosystem to recover and flourish,” said Garcia. “All branches of our Dung Beetle Bush School will focus on subjects such as: ecology, ethology, anti-poaching, tracking, and more. Each course educates about the crisis facing the wildlife and wilderness of the African continent, as well as the issues our natural world faces on a global scale.”
Dung Beetle Bush School will also serve as a prerequisite for the training of Game Scouts and volunteers if they are positioned in the field.
“Education is at the heart of change. We can fight back all we want against the numerous forces we are up against but if we don’t educate and hit the hearts and minds of people across the globe, we will most certainly lose,” Garcia told WAN. “The fight for our natural world is by far the greatest challenge we face today as a species. It decides if the lives of humans and those that we share the world with today will live on.”
“We should not be doing this because of our own survival, but for others,” continued Garcia, noting that the suffering of Africa’s animals and the mass genocides that are taking place across the globe, as well as the extermination of our natural world, are all due to our own negligence. “We have to do this, because, it is simply the right thing to do.”
There are many ways to help and support Soldiers For Wildlife, such as sponsoring a puppy to become a member of their canine unit team. This team will be integrated for both daily patrols and a quick reaction force in the events of security breaches. More ways to contribute to this amazing organization can be found HERE!