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Most wanted elephant poacher and ivory trafficker in Tanzania arrested

  • Tanzania has been widely criticized by conservationists and environmentalists for failing to reign in the illicit ivory trade, but recent high-profile arrests have raised hopes for the future of the African elephant.
  • Mariango had evaded arrest numerous times in the past and was finally apprehended by Tanzania’s National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU) on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam.
  • “The Devil” was captured just weeks after a Chinese national, Yang Feng Glan, known as the “Queen of Ivory,” was arrested and charged with smuggling 706 elephant tusks with a street value of $2.5 million.

Tanzania’s most wanted elephant poacher, Boniface Matthew Mariango, referred to by law enforcement officials as “The Devil” (or “Shetani” in Kiswahili), has been arrested after a manhunt that lasted for over a year.

Mariango, reportedly responsible for the killing of thousands of elephants, had evaded arrest numerous times in the past, but was finally apprehended by Tanzania’s National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU) on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam.

“The Devil” was captured just weeks after a Chinese national, Yang Feng Glan, known as the “Queen of Ivory,” was arrested and charged with smuggling 706 elephant tusks with a street value of $2.5 million. She now faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Tanzania has been widely criticized by conservationists and environmentalists for failing to reign in the illicit ivory trade, which has severely impacted elephant populations not just within its own borders but in neighboring countries, as well. A report last year found that high-ranking officials were involved in the illegal trade, and that that corruption was allowing large volumes of illegal elephant ivory to be smuggled out of the country.

With these two high-profile poachers and traffickers taken into custody, however, conservationists have new hope about the future of African elephants.

Shetani behind bars in Tanzania. Photo credit: Terra Mater Factual Studios.

“This arrest is yet another substantial breakthrough in Tanzania’s anti-poaching and anti-trafficking efforts, with implications also reaching into neighboring countries,” Andrea Crosta, co-founder of the Elephant Action League and the WildLeaks initiative, said in a statement emailed to Mongabay. “Finally, we see big fishes getting caught in the law enforcement net.”

Crosta added: “We congratulate the NTSCIU for their many recent successes. This task force, and its men and women, represent real hope for elephants and for Tanzania.”

The NTSCIU considered Mariango to be the most prolific elephant poacher and ivory trafficker in East Africa, which is why, after the “Queen of Ivory” was caught, he became the task force’s most wanted criminal. Mariango allegedly managed over 15 poaching syndicates that had been operating with impunity throughout Tanzania, Burundi, Zambia, Mozambique and southern Kenya.

According to the Born Free Foundation, more than 24,300 elephants have already been killed by poachers in 2015, and some 129,000 elephants have been poached for their ivory since 2012.

The Elephant Action League’s statement quotes an anonymous senior Tanzanian government official who described the arrest of Mariango as a major breakthrough in the fight against poaching syndicates in his country. “The evidence we have against ‘Shetani’ is crushing,” the unnamed official said. “He is the major supplier of weapons, ammunition and cars to poaching syndicates operating across the country and beyond.”

The fight is far from over, however, the Tanzanian official said. “With both of them now in custody we will be able, for the first time, to truly crack down on the international networks involved in the illegal trafficking of ivory.”

“After these high profile arrests in Tanzania and the commitment to ban ivory by U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping in their respective countries, I can finally say that there is hope for the elephants,” Crosta said. “But let’s keep fighting.”

Elephants in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. Photo by Rhett Butler.