Congolese conservationist Jerome Mokoko believes Japan would be able help protect his nation’s forests and fauna if only the public would show a greater interest in understanding where ivory and hardwood come from.

“We have seen rising demand for timber and ivory in Asia in particular,” Mokoko, 64, said in an interview in Tokyo where he was attending a conference. “As long as there is a market, neither deforestation nor poaching ends.”

Mokoko is assistant director of the Wildlife Conservation Society Congo, working to preserve natural resources in the Republic of the Congo, where a huge equatorial forest spreads along the Congo River.

“Poaching of African elephants for their tusks has become more and more serious in recent years,” he said. “Both the funds and human resources to fight the poachers are not sufficient.”

Mokoko told the Tokyo conference in August that hunters in Congo relentlessly hunt animals such as elephants and gorillas. He said forests are an integral part of the nation and easily damaged.

“To cut trees, workers create roads in the middle of forests,” he said in the interview. “The roads enable poachers to go deep into forests, to areas they could not enter before, resulting in a greater threat to wild animals.”

Born in a small village in the north, Mokoko studied veterinary science in the former Soviet Union and worked for a long time at the nation’s forestry ministry. He is internationally known for his research into birds, especially migratory species.

“The Congolese don’t know about Japan and Japanese people know little about Congo,” he said, adding he realized how little knowledge he had of Japan when he arrived for the Tokyo conference.

“But some records indicate that Japan is the world’s third-largest customer for timber from Africa,” he said. “We can say Congo and Japan are linked in various ways.”

He believes that the expansion of ecotourism would help conserve wild animals and alleviate poverty in his country.

“I hope more and more Japanese people visit Congo and see our beautiful forests and wild animals with their own eyes,” Mokoko said.

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