Last year, Brice Mouapele searched for elephants in the forest of the Republic of Congo, seeking to kill the vulnerable species with his bare hands. The 39-year-old pygmy grew up hunting with his father and often ate elephant meat. But now, after the non-profit organization African Parks offered poachers training and work to become eco-guards in return for information and guns, Mouapele has reformed. He now works as an eco-guard 22 days a month, patrolling Congo-Brazzaville's Odzala-Kokoua national park for poachers.
Mouapele told his story to the Guardian:
"When I used to poach there were lots of ivory buyers. We had west African buyers even Chinese buyers who bought from us without weighing the ivory -- they were very good clients. I had no remorse killing elephants ... I could get a lot of money for poaching but often we were duped."
But Mouapele said that his new job is the right one, despite the potential risk of repercussion from poachers he once worked alongside.
"Mouapele name means brave man, I am happy to be an eco-guard, I am not afraid. Poaching is a job with too much risk. Not only are you in permanent danger from animals – my brother died after an elephant charged him – but you are also in danger from prison."
Mouapele is the first pygmy to turn from poacher to protector and hopes that his community, one of the poorest in Congo, will understand his message as well. "All I wish for is a better future for Odzala park and its biodiversity," he said.