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The Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI) Friend of the Month for June 2023 is Cléo Mashini Mwatha, the CEO of Juristrale, a non-governmental organisation from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which focuses on the application of law to protect the environment. The EPI Foundation is working with Juristrale in the DRC to improve the management and security of ivory stockpiles. According to Mwatha, elephant populations in the DRC under enormous pressure and Juristrale played an important role in the closure of the Kinshasa ivory market in 2017

Cléo Mashini Mwatha
Cléo Mashini Mwatha

Tell us a little bit about your childhood and younger years. Did you grow up in Kinshasa and what did you study?

I spent my childhood and younger years between Kinshasa and Brussels, where my father was pursuing his doctoral studies. This is what must have given me a passion for years of study. In 2021 I obtained my doctorate in law from the University of Ghent in Belgium, specialising in the application of international law in the protection of wildlife.

You are the CEO of Juristrale. Did you come into this position through a passion for law, or for conservation?

In 2010, I and some colleagues came up with the idea of Juristrale. As a result of our success, I was recruited to work with international organisations. But in 2018 I rejoined Juristrale as CEO, and I combine this role with my legal work and lecturing at the university (where I teach environmental law and lead a research centre)

Does your work give you opportunities to travel across the DRC, or are you always in Kinshasa?

My work with Jurtistrale often takes me out into the field, to work with our teams on the ground and our government partners, as well as to Belgium. I’ve had the opportunity to work in defence of the environment all over the DRC and beyond.

The DRC is a country of critical environmental importance, but also one which faces enormous challenges. What are the achievements at Juristrale of which you’re most proud?

Juristrale is the first civil society organisation in the DRC to be involved in the enforcement of wildlife laws. This involvement has resulted in several seizures of wildlife products prohibited under CITES, and the arrests of criminals.  In addition, Juristrale has played an important role in the closure of the Kinshasa ivory market (2017), the development of a National Ivory Action Plan and capacity building of law enforcement agencies. We’ve also helped raise awareness of environmental legislation, and the importance of good management of ivory stocks in the DRC.

The DRC’s elephant population is much reduced. What do you think are the most important measures we can take to protect the surviving elephants?

Elephant populations in the DRC are under enormous pressure. The statistics of ivory seizures (measured in tonnes) which originated from the DRC attest to this sad reality. There’s a lot of things we could do, including strengthening the legal framework, raising public awareness, developing a management system for ivory stocks and a strategy to combat wildlife crime. In addition, support for law enforcement agencies (training, logistics, canine units, etc.) would also be helpful.

Finally, let’s say you have a quiet Sunday, without work. How do you choose to spend it? With a beer by the river? Watching football on TV? Or maybe alone with a book?

When I have a rare opportunity to catch my breath, given that work takes up so much of my time, I devote these beautiful moments to my wife and children. Family outings, and conversations over a good meal, help to revive me.

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