EDIT: Thanks so much for your questions! I had a lot of fun answering them, but I’ve gotta run now! Thank you National Geographic for this wonderful opportunity to connect with community. I hope everyone will remember to check out our story in the September issue of National Geographic Magazine. Have a wonderful day!

Hi Reddit! I'm Tim Spalla, a US Army Ranger combat veteran and Special Operations Counter-Terrorism intelligence expert who for the past 6 years has been helping governments and conservation non-profits throughout Africa fight back against wildlife poachers and traffickers. I've been active throughout the continent working closely with wildlife enforcement agencies, non-profits and local partners in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Uganda, DRC, Somalia and South Africa. I'm also responsible for designing and coordinating execution of the Horn of Africa Conservation Alliance’s (HOACA) conservation security and investigation projects in addition to providing strategic management and oversight of all field operations. Most recently, my work combating the illegal trade in cheetah cubs has been covered by National Geographic. AMA!

Read more about how trafficked cheetah cubs move from the wild and into your Instagram feed: https://on.natgeo.com/3ki129T

Learn how you can help fight trafficking by taking a moment to #ThinkBeforeYouLike: https://on.natgeo.com/3DbXbUr

Proof: https://i.redd.it/fdfhwaa1l6j71.jpg

Comments: 148 • Responses: 16  • Date: 

ShortBusCult138 karma

Thank you for what you do! Where do the Cubs go after rescue? Are they tracked after released to see how they fare?


nationalgeographic152 karma

The cubs go to a safehouse in Hargeisa where they receive basic care. Unfortunately, there is currently no program to reintroduce them to the wild in Somaliland.

Cursedbythedicegods107 karma

How difficult is it to go after the sources of these poaching rings? It's been my understanding that the ones on the ground actually doing it are usually poor, uneducated people trying to make a quick payday for themselves and possibly their families. But what about the individuals and organizations that hire them?

nationalgeographic152 karma

It can be very difficult. So many layers to this and you're right. The poachers are usually poor and without any other options. They become easy targets for organized criminal organizations to manipulate. It can be a real challenge to identify and locate the people who actually hold the power but when we do then it becomes a process of working with our local government and community partners to act upon that information and intervene in a way that maximizes impact while minimizing collateral. Thank you for asking this question.

1Bag-o-NutsPlease78 karma

How would a veteran, with experience working in Africa while attached to group, get into this field?

nationalgeographic135 karma

There are a lot of companies and non-profits who are looking for security and training experts to come in and help them with programming. Ton of websites out there with conservation job listings where you may find something that interests you. I will be honest though, leave the IZ and AFG contractor salary expectations at the door. I find that's usually the biggest challenge for folks from our background who wish to get into this work - it's not going to do much for your bank account but will definitely fill your heart up full if you let it. Good luck.

1Bag-o-NutsPlease78 karma

I just miss the work, my time in Africa changed my life and my whole perspective of the world in general. Thank you for your reply, stay safe out there

nationalgeographic69 karma

I felt the same things my friend... A piece of my heart will always be there to. Take care.

nthroop163 karma

Is there anything I can do to support the conservation other than withholding my likes from social media? Organizations to donate to or prospective laws/bills to raise awareness for? Thank you for everything you do

nationalgeographic59 karma

Thank you for your interest to support initiatives working to stop this. You can check out this Gofundme link to support of the Horn of Africa Conservation Alliance and to know more about our work and mission - https://bit.ly/3kkgmmr.

Davy_boy37 karma

What kinds of skills from your counter-terrorism work have translated to fighting wildlife trafficking?

nationalgeographic66 karma

Interesting question. I've provided Intelligence collection and analysis training for non-profits and conservation personnel, implemented network targeting theory and programming to help our partners illuminate the organized criminal organizations responsible for driving a lot of the wildlife crime in Africa. I've helped equipped our partners with commercial investigations hardware and software in order to give them an edge in the fight. And probably more than anything, the skill that I've transitioned from CT work into CWT is the belief that I can make a difference. The problem is so much bigger than any one person, community, government or organization but the solutions must always start with believing that you have the power to make a difference.

Voltekker_35 karma

What are the ramifications if this kind of illegal activity goes unchecked?

nationalgeographic65 karma

Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) with cheetahs out of the Horn of Africa has a potential to drive cheetah to extinction in the whole region. The cheetah is already under significant pressure in the area from conflict with pastoralist and climate change and IWT at the current volume can make the animal disappear form the area within several years.

rabbitearz9329 karma

Did you always intend for your work to be combating illegal wildlife trade, or was it simply where your path led? Very curious about how your background played a role in where you are today.

nationalgeographic116 karma

I actually didn't know much about wildlife trafficking until I started working in Central Africa in 2011. I was on one of the Intelligence teams hunting Joseph Kony throughout the Congo and South Sudan. That's when I became aware of the connection between wildlife crime (in this case elephant poaching and ivory trafficking) and terrorism. We spent many years following Kony's militia as they decimated the elephant population around Garamba National Park. It was pretty intense and left me feeling as if I needed to do more. I started my own company in 2015 in an effort to take the skills I learned in the CT world and apply them in the conservation space. My goal was to help governments and communities fight back against the wildlife criminals and networks that are destroying our wildlife and wild places. I do feel like my path led me here and all I really had to do was follow my heart. Good question. Thank you.

not_lurking_this_tim19 karma

Who pays you for this service?

nationalgeographic40 karma

Great question! Funding can come from a wide spectrum of sources - Governments, non-profits, communities and individual donors. National Geographic has been our primary financial supporter for many years on this project and as we move forward we hope to expand our community of supports to include other nonprofits, government agencies and individual donors. If you would like to support our work please checkout our Gofundme: https://bit.ly/3kkgmmr

Adiwik18 karma

Do you wake up in the morning knowing that you're actually a good person?

nationalgeographic46 karma

So, I usually wake up hoping to find opportunities to PROVE I'm a good person. I think that's all anyone can really ask for. Good question.

TheFloridaMan_16 karma

Have you worked around the Wakanda part of Africa?

nationalgeographic81 karma

Do you know what T'challa puts on his hot dog?... Answer: Wakandaments!

Miz00700716 karma

Is there capacity for prosecution in the Horn of Africa or are the penalties just a slap on the wrist?

nationalgeographic34 karma

Yes. Somaliland is actually doing a great job at stepping up prosecutions. Until 2015 Forestry and Wildlife Law there was limited legal basis for such prosecutions. This has however changed and the recent cases have been handled very professionally all the way from investigation to prosecution. Ethiopia and Djibouti also have the capacity but not much is done in this sphere.

Leenzlions15 karma

Thanks for doing this! What’s some of the biggest obstacles you face in your work? And what do you think more people should know about when it comes to cheetah trafficking? How do you get people to care?

nationalgeographic24 karma

At first the biggest obstacle was to convince people this was happening. Only a very few traditional actors active in conservation and Counter Wildlife Trafficking (CWT) work in the Horn of Africa and so getting solid data was a problem. Netgeo and Wildlife Watch have stepped in in a big way to close this gap. Now we are in the phase where we know what the issue is and what to do but are looking to fund the intervention to stop it. If you are interested to learn more about it or contribute you can have a look at https://bit.ly/3kkgmmr

unkudayu9 karma

On top of you and your team preventing poaching, do you and your team impart the knowledge and skills to locals needed in order to deal with poachers?

nationalgeographic20 karma

Great question. We always try our best to build capacity wherever and with whoever is willing to receive - that can take the form of training, equipping and resourcing. We don't just stand between poachers/traffickers and wildlife, we also seek to engage and educate people, especially the younger generations. We have ensured that a copy of the Somali language version of National Geographic's September magazine issue will be distributed to schools and communities throughout the country and combined with additional educational programming. Our goal is to help make the protection of wildlife and wild spaces in Somaliland a national priority and something that all Somali's can participate and take pride in.

PathToExile4 karma

How can I get into this?

I've been looking for a way to take a MUCH more aggressive stance against poachers/traffickers.

Do you think such forces are required to protect all wildlife?

nationalgeographic20 karma

Successful approach needs to be a combination of law enforcement action and community engagement. The Horn of Africa and most other worlds' wilderness is too vast nad inaccessible and repressive action alone usually does not achieve the intended end. We are currently working to implement projects to address both ends of this spectrum. If you are interested to read more about our solution check out. https://bit.ly/3kkgmmr

shogi_x2 karma

Can we just hire hunters to poach the poachers?

nationalgeographic67 karma

To be honest that's a job I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. At the end of the day, poachers are just human like you and me and most are just trying to feed themselves and their families. I don't think violence is the answer to desperation. I think education, resourcing, and sustainable economic opportunities that allow our neighbors to care for themselves and live with dignity is a more realistic approach.