In response to the expanding, global epidemic of poaching, a group of TROY alumni have created an organization to help park rangers and wildlife reserves protect themselves and endangered animals.
Wildlife Aviation Group, founded by Bryan Wallace (’87) and John Schaper (’86), aims to become the leading provider of aerial conservation services, defending endangered wildlife and the park rangers who monitor them in both protected and remote places.
While working on a non-related assignment in Africa, Wallace said he and Schaper thought some aspects of that project and the team they had already built would be useful in anti-poaching efforts. Schaper’s brother and fellow TROY graduate, Steve, knew the Kenya Wildlife Service through his job as the regional security officer at the Embassy in Nairobi and provided introductions.
“From those limited exchanges, we realized that KWS, and other wildlife agencies for that matter, didn’t have the long-term financial means to support what we were offering,” Wallace said. “Wildlife agencies throughout the world are woefully under-funded and stretched thin, as far as personnel, forcing small groups of men and women to patrol a limited portion of the hundreds of thousands of acres each day.
“Private conservation trusts are under even more pressure to provide their own rangers and the wherewithal to support them and their families,” he said. “Most of these rangers are lucky to have proper footwear, let alone up-to-date modern security equipment, but they are an extremely dedicated and very inspiring group.”
Wallace said they don’t consider themselves to be environmentalists, but the numbers are undeniable.
“Animals are being slaughtered, that’s the appropriate word, and people are losing their lives trying to defend them,” he said. “There is a war going on, and the good guys are losing. The numbers are quite staggering.”
The illegal wildlife trade is the second largest criminal activity in the world, a $19 billion a year industry that claims the lives of 100 park rangers per year on average, one elephant every 15 minutes and three rhinos each day. Giraffes have been hunted down to a population of approximately 40,000 and Grevy’s zebras to about 2,000 left in the wild.
Wallace said their conversation with the KWS and other agencies stuck in their minds and made them wonder how they could make a difference. Eventually, they decided to draw from the groups over 100 years of combined military and commercial aviation experience and over 120 years of security and intelligence experience.
“Using a uniquely designed small manned aircraft, one used by NASA and Boeing Phantom Works, we will be able to provide aerial surveillance to rangers and other park officials at any time of the day or evening,” he said. “It is game-changing technology for the rangers and the animals and habitat they protect.”
Manufactured in Slovenia, the aircraft is a lightweight, sport model that requires one pilot and one observer, does not use aviation fuel, has the lowest-rated sound signature of any aircraft, has a 50-inch wingspan and the capability to glide for 27 miles before needing to land once the engine has been cut.
“The ‘ball’ mounted under the nose of the aircraft has a forward looking infrared radar system (FLIR),” Wallace said. “It gives us night capabilities that are not currently available to many, if any, agencies in Africa. It’s the game-changer.”
The group’s initial partnership is with the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (MCWT) in southern Kenya. The MCWT employs 118 rangers that patrol over 280,000 acres of land. In 2016, they covered nearly 27,000 miles in anti-poaching efforts, a distance equivalent to walking from New York City to Los Angeles and back six times.
“While their efforts have been incredibly successful, MWCT is surrounded by ever-growing wildlife-related violence,” he said. “Just this past month, two KWS rangers were ambushed and killed by poachers in Tsavo National Park. A pilot lost his life when his helicopter was shot down by poachers in the Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and two more rangers were killed last week in Garamba National Park in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]. These are real people with real families.
“That is why Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust has asked us for help. With limited resources, there is only so much they can contribute to modern security and surveillance equipment.”
Eventually, Wallace said the goal is to set up a global network and expand out of Africa to the southern parts of Asia with all branches communicating with each other, developing new technology and making a significant impact in poaching numbers with continued involvement from TROY graduates from all backgrounds.
Including Wallace and John Schaper, there are five additional TROY alumni who have roles within the group. Steve Schaper (’88), security, Ward Sullivan (’96), adviser, fundraising and governmental affairs, Ted Sullivan (’90), senior executive at SAP, Ray Winborne (’90), chief financial officer of GoDaddy, and Tom DiCesere (’92).
“Despite their demanding corporate schedules, Ted Sullivan and Ray Winborne have been tremendous advocates for our cause,” Wallace said. “We are working with Tom DiCesere to do something in his brother’s name, Frank DiCesere, who passed away a couple of years ago.”
Frank DiCesere, another TROY graduate, was a roommate of both Wallace and Schaper.
Wallace has also been contacted by other TROY alumni about helping with the organization. Micah Grimes, who is now with NBC News, reached out about helping with garnering media attention, and several others have made financial contributions.
“We are always indebted to those great Trojans,” he said. “I have reached out to a couple of Trojan Hall of Famers about becoming ambassadors as well. We do have a couple of outsiders involved, but it is turning into a Troy affair.”
Wallace said they hope to begin working with the MWCT “sometime after we beat LSU on September 30 but before we play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.” More information can be found on their website, http://wildlifeaviationgroup.org/.