COMMERCE CITY - Back home in Uganda, Charles Tumwesigye is dealing with a major everyday problem that's taking the lives of more and more law enforcement officers.
"We have lost a lot of people in the process of combating poaching and wildlife trafficking," Tumwesigye said. "But, somebody has to do the job. We are the guys doing the job."
Tumwesigye is one of 42 conservation officials from 17 different countries visiting Colorado as part of the International Conservation Chiefs' Academy put on by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"Looking at how things are done in U.S. so that we can see how to improve our systems back in Africa," Tumwesigye said.
Eugene Mutangana is from Rwanda.
"We've been seizing a lot of ivory and other commodities or wildlife commodities," Mutangana said.
They are both visiting the National Eagle Repository located within the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge near Commerce City. The repository stores 1.3 million items of confiscated illegal wildlife property.
"This is the only facility of its kind in the world," Coleen Schaefer, a supervisory wildlife specialist, said.
The warehouse is full of things like boots made from stingrays, lotion made from caviar and products made from tiger bones. Elephant ivory and rhino horns continue to be sold on the black market.
"Rhino horn is more valuable now than platinum or cocaine per kilo," Schaefer said.
David Hubbard is the special agent in Charge of the International Operations Unit for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He says poaching and wildlife trafficking have become one of the biggest crime problems in the world.
"With perhaps just narcotics and guns being more than wildlife trafficking," Hubbard said. "Multi, multi billion-dollar-a-year illegal business."
Hubbard says the academy is teaching their African counterparts how to do police the problem better and handle evidence and logistics. That's why they are at the National Eagle Repository, a place that is rarely open to the public.
"Our main teaching points here in Colorado were proper evidence handling, proper evidence storage which is a big issue in a lot of countries in Africa," Hubbard said.
Mutangana says this type of training is invaluable for his department in Rwanda.
"One thing that I would love to do from here is having police trained that work at the airports and borders," Mutangana said.
Hubbard hopes this international collaboration can have a major impact on the poaching problem, especially to preserve animals that may face extinction.
"Once they go extinct, they're gone," Hubbard said.
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