Poacher accused of killing up to 500 elephants gets 30 years behind bars

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A poacher accused of killing up to 500 elephants since 2008 has been sentenced to 30 years behind bars, making him the first wildlife trafficker to be convicted in criminal court in the Republic of Congo.

Mobanza Mobembo Gerard, also known as Guyvanho, was found guilty in the landmark case on charges including ivory trafficking and the attempted murder of park rangers, The Wildlife Conservation Center revealed on Monday. His sentencing on August 19 came after a three-year investigation and repeated escapes from law enforcement officers as well as prison.

“This unprecedented conviction in the criminal court is a major milestone in the protection of wildlife in the Republic of Congo,” said Dr. Emma Stokes, WCS Regional Director of Central Africa

All environmental crimes were previously tried in civil courts, where the maximum penalty under the wildlife law was five years behind bars

“Today’s sentencing sends an extremely strong message that wildlife crime will not be tolerated and will be prosecuted at the highest levels,” Stokes added. “We are confident that today’s sentence will serve as a deterrent to would-be criminals that you will serve hard time if you break our wildlife laws and put park rangers and Congo’s national security in danger.”

Authorities said Gerard led his team on poaching expeditions until they were caught in a 2018 operation carried out by rangers at Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, where they allegedly killed 11 elephants. The confrontation erupted in a gunfire exchange, but Gerard was able to escape.

Three of his team members however were taken into custody at the scene, all of who provided statements against the group leader.

Gerard was later arrested in May 2018 but managed to escape from prison in the town of Ouesso in June — just less than two weeks ahead of his trial.

The attempted murder charges against him stem from a similar confrontation with park officials in May 2019. Patrolling rangers spotted Gerard and his group of poachers as they traveled back to headquarters.

A gun battle ensued and two rangers were injured. Gerard again managed to escape but was eventually arrested by the Ouesso police on July 20, 2019.

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