A poaching ring working near Tanzania’s famed Serengeti National Park was dismantled following an investigation into the killing of a British helicopter pilot on January 28. Roger Gower, 37, a pilot for the Friedkin Conservation Fund was shot during an antipoaching operation in Maswa Game Reserve.
According to Lazaro Mambosasa, the regional police commissioner, his men arrested nine people in connection with Gower’s death, and a national government task force arrested and detained several others. Mambosasa said Ngile Gonga, 28, a farmer from Sungu, a village near the park where Gower was killed, has confessed to the shooting.
Mambosasa said his officers seized two hunting rifles, several rounds of ammunition, and two elephant tusks weighing 68 pounds (31 kilograms) as part of the investigation. Police believe the group had operated in the area previously. According to the Friedkin Conservation Fund, an NGO that manages the game reserve and was Gower’s employer, rangers employed by the fund found more than 40 elephant carcasses there in 2010.
Wildlife Officials Involved
Police confirmed that they’d arrested Iddi Mashaka, 49, a former police officer and a current intelligence officer working with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority, which manages Ngorongoro Crater, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mambosasa said Mashaka acted as a middleman, helping to organize the poaching gang.
Another source close to the investigation said that at least two other employees with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area were arrested.
Since 2009, Tanzania has been called the epicenter of Africa’s poaching crisis. A government census published last year documented that the country lost 60 percent of its elephants between 2009 and 2014.
Dan Friedkin, chairman of the Friedkin Conservation Fund, wrote in a statement that he’s confident authorities will prosecute those involved to the full extent of the law. He also said he hoped the incident would mark a turning point in Tanzania’s fight to protect its elephants. “By bringing these individuals to justice, it will honor Roger’s memory,” he said.
Following the news of Gower’s death, Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli, said in a statement his government would ensure that the perpetrators who killed him would be apprehended and brought to justice.
Praise From Gower’s Brother
Max Gower, Roger’s younger brother, said he’s pleased with the government's efforts to capture the killers. “The government’s efforts to round up these people have been very admirable,” he said. He also thanked the government for quickly returning his brother’s body to England.
Gower launched a fundraising effort in his brother’s name, which raised $71,000 (50,000 pounds) in the week after Roger was killed. “It’s amazing. The donations just keep rolling in,” Gower said. “It’s made an enormous difference to me and my family just reading these messages from all around the world from people who’ve never even met my brother.”
Gower said he plans to visit Tanzania in the coming months and plans to identify an antipoaching project he can donate the money to. “I want it to be a lasting memorial to Roger,” he said—“something that’s symbolic of him but also that creates some publicity and momentum to try and bring about material change in the poaching fight.”
A memorial for Gower will be held on May 6 in London at St. Michael’s Church and All Angels Church, in Chiswick. His family plans to spread his ashes in Aberdovey, a small town on the coast of Wales where Gower often went on holiday.
Sophie Tremblay is a freelance journalist based in Arusha, Tanzania. Follow her on Twitter.