By Alexis Draut
John Garcia was a college student when a family trip to Africa changed his life forever. In addition to witnessing the beauty of Africa, its people, and its wildlife, he discovered the hidden genocide of some of Africa’s most iconic species. Garcia had always had an interest and respect for the wilderness, but the more he learned, the more he felt he could not turn his back. He decided to return to Africa and do what he could to help.
Within two months of being out of the military, Garcia began traveling Africa. He worked alongside teams that were doing outstanding work in the conservation field, learned about the 20 billion dollar black market wildlife trade and the violence that goes along with it, the different types of poaching, as well as human-wildlife conflict.
The more he learned, the more difficult the problem seemed, but it only made his drive stronger.
John Garcia founded Soldiers For Wildlife after a trip to Africa opened his eyes to the enormous issue of poaching, and the illegal wildlife trade.
“The issues are extremely delicate, and there are no simple answers,” says Garcia. “If we don’t work together and educate both locals and foreigners, we will most certainly lose this battle.”
The non-profit — Soldiers For Wildlife
Garcia founded Soldiers For Wildlife in 2017, a non-profit dedicated to the conservation of Africa’s threatened species, taking action against those who are driving them to extinction. The name ‘Soldiers For Wildlife’ was created to pay homage to the thousands of rangers who have lost their lives defending wildlife. Its mission is to develop elite anti-poaching teams, set-up schools to educate people on the importance of species and ecosystems protection as well as to uplift local communities.
In early 2019, Garcia found two partners, whom he felt had the same vision.
In Zambia, Garcia partnered with ex SAS Rhodesian soldier, Darrell Watt, who has a long history of managing conservancies. In his 17 years of doing so, Watt has been responsible for the arrests of over 1,800 poachers.
“His knowledge of bushcraft is unmatched, and he is a respected member of the local community,” says Garcia.
Watt’s property Katunwe expands 4,000 hectares (around 9,800 acres), and Soldiers For Wildlife will fund and assist in the training of the property’s rangers as well as open a school for conservation education.
John Garcia with field rangers during a training exercise.
“He is an expert in the fields of anti-poaching, ecology, ethology, and bush survival and his school offers a variety of courses for any group,” says Garcia.
With funds generated, Soldiers For Wildlife will purchase as much land as possible to keep ecosystems intact and focus on conservation education.
“Having private land allows the nonprofit to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife and criminally charge poachers who cross its borders,” says Garcia.
One of Garcia’s most rewarding experiences to date was being a part of the rescue of three baby elephants that were rehabilitated and then introduced to a foster mother in 2017. The babies and mother continue to roam freely on private lands where they are protected 24/7.
After a mud bath, a baby elephant is ready to eat. John Garcia (left) prepares to feed the elephants his team rescued.
Garcia and his team use social media to spread the word of what they’re doing, but mostly, they rely on word of mouth. They host fundraising events, sell merchandise displaying their logo and mission, and rely on funds raised to support their endeavors and future goals.
However, being a grassroots organization, Garcia’s organisation has run into its share of obstacles.
“Getting people to care from a world away is one of the most frustrating parts,” says Garcia. “Without witnessing the beauty, or understanding the severity of the situation, people quickly go back to their everyday lives because, at the moment, it is not something that inconveniences them.”
To sponsor trips back and forth between Zambia, South Africa and his home base in New York, Garcia hasn’t been able to pursue a stable career. Instead, he’s spent the past two years doing odd jobs ranging from driving trucks to power washing to make extra cash to live off.
“I’ve found a cause that needs help more than anything in the world. We must defend those that cannot defend themselves and start taking care of our only home.”
The Soldiers for Wildlife founder sees a bright future for his nonprofit. His future goal is to be able to live in Africa full-time to fight the good fight and protect as much wild land as possible.