- A court in the Republic of Congo has convicted three men of killing elephants for their tusks. They were handed five-year prison sentences and fined $10,000 each.
- The three men were part of a six-member poaching gang that managed to escape an ambush set up by park authorities, but not before leaving behind some 70 kilograms of ivory as well as an AK-47 rifle, according to the WCS.
- The gang is believed to have links to some of northern Congo’s most notorious elephant poachers and ivory traffickers, including two who were jailed in the last two years.
A court in the Republic of Congo has convicted three men of killing elephants for their tusks, and sentenced them to five years in jail as well as fined them the equivalent of $10,000 each, according to a press release from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
The men were part of a group of six elephant poachers who reportedly entered the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park on Jan. 13 and were first detected by researchers from the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project working in the south of the national park. Following reports of gunfire, park authorities deployed four ranger teams and intercepted the poachers on Feb. 2.
The six poachers, however, managed to escape the ambush, but not before leaving behind 16 tusks weighing a combined 70 kilograms (154 pounds), as well as equipment including an AK-47 rifle, WCS reported. Three days later, park authorities and local police arrested three members of the gang in the nearby town of Pokola.
A manhunt for the remaining three members of the poaching gang, including the suspected leader, is ongoing.
“We commend the parks rangers of Nouabale-Ndoki in their continuing efforts to protect elephants in one of the last remaining strongholds of the species,” Mark Gately, director of WCS’s Republic of Congo program, said in the statement. “The convictions of three notorious poachers sends a message that such activities will not be tolerated in one of Congo’s flagship protected areas.”
The convicted men have reportedly admitted to entering the national park illegally on numerous previous occasions, and removing some 400 kilograms (881 pounds) of ivory from the forest within the last four years. They are also believed to have links to some of northern Congo’s most notorious elephant poachers and ivory traffickers, WCS said in the statement. This includes Samuel Pembele, who was sentenced to five year in prison for ivory poaching in the same area in 2016. Another ivory trafficker, Daring Dissaka, was handed a similar sentence last year.
The Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, spread across 4,200 square kilometers (1,620 square miles) in northern Republic of Congo, is home to a number of threatened species including forest elephants, western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees and bongo antelopes. Illegal hunting is a persistent threat in the park, aided by the increasing number of logging roads in the surrounding timber concessions. “Ivory trafficking networks continue to flourish in Congo and across the border to Central African Republic and Cameroon,” the WCS Congo team said in a blogpost in 2016. “These networks are exploiting new communication and transport links that arrive with logging.”
The park is managed by the Nouabale-Ndoki Foundation, a public-private partnership between the government and the WCS Congo program.