Major Elephant Poacher Caught in Congo: Quick Action by Regional Conservation Partners Leads to Arrest
In the coming months, staff at the Jane Goodall Institute’s (JGI) Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center (TCRC) in the Republic of Congo will begin reintroducing a number of the sanctuary’s mandrills into Conkouati Douli National Park. The mandrill release, under the supervision of JGI Project Manager Miles Woodruff, entails a series of forest surveys to assess the park’s suitability for the animals.
To date, this survey process, in addition to providing data for the mandrill release, has also contributed to the disruption of illegal hunting in the area, resulting in several bushmeat confiscations and, most recently, the arrest of one of the most notorious elephant poachers in the country.
While conducting a survey in the park, Noel Kiyindou, a JGI researcher, heard automatic rifle fire from elephant poachers hunting nearby and recorded the location using a GPS tracking device. The JGI team quickly alerted Rolland Missilou, the park conservator, and he organized an effort to capture the poachers.
A team of nine ecoguards from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) who manage the park went to the location recorded by Noel when he first heard the shots. After hiding in wait for hours, the ecoguards heard footsteps and saw a large man in his early 40s emerge from the dense undergrowth carrying four elephant tusks and an automatic rifle. Despite being surrounded, the man didn’t give up without a fight. After a lengthy struggle, he was subdued by the ecoguards and placed in restraints. The ecoguards and the suspect marched for several hours through the forest, but during a break, the suspect managed to remove his restraints and escape.
With the ecoguards in pursuit, the poacher leapt into a ravine in an attempt to lose them. To his dismay, four of the ecoguards followed him over the cliff and managed to recapture him. The four ecoguards and the suspect had to be pulled out of the ravine using ropes. With the suspect firmly secured, the group made it to a designated pick-up point without additional complications. Under the supervision of the Conkouati Douli Park ecoguards, the suspect was transferred to the police station in the city of Pointe Noire with logistical support from JGI staff.
Hilde VanLeeuwe, the park’s principal technical advisor and the WCS site director, noted: “The poacher is someone who was known to poach but remained free due to lack of evidence. We hope that catching him red-handed will frighten other poachers and allow the elephants of Conkouati to catch some breath.”
PALF, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that supports the Congolese government’s efforts to enforce wildlife conservation laws, has taken over prosecution of the suspect. HELP Congo, another NGO working in the park, also provided invaluable information that contributed to the arrest of the poacher.
Protection of regional biodiversity is one of the many positive impacts expected to come from the mandrill reintroduction project. Having researchers in the park provides additional “eyes and ears” in some of the toughest-to-reach zones. Miles Woodruff commented, “As a research team, we don’t carry firearms, but we do carry GPS devices and satellite phones. This allows us to provide real-time, geo-referenced information to WCS and government authorities about illegal activities occurring in the study area. Hopefully, over the course of the mandrill release project, we will be able to continue supporting the government and WCS’s efforts to sustain the rich biodiversity of Conkouati Douli National Park.”
Thanks to the combined efforts of the organizations involved in the poacher’s arrest, a man who has been pursued for 20 years has been brought to justice.