Arrests latest in enforcement crackdown in Niassa National Reserve
Newswise — Two known ivory poachers were arrested and five illegal firearms seized on Monday, September 22nd near Niassa National Reserve by a joint force including Niassa Reserve scouts from WCS and the Ministry of Tourism, supported by the new branch of the Mozambican police in charge of environmental crimes, and other scouts from the Luwire tourism concession.
The poachers were captured in a late-night raid just south of Niassa National Reserve in northern Mozambique. They were in possession of three AK-47 assault rifles, two .375 caliber hunting rifles, and ammunition. The arrests represent the second enforcement victory against poachers and organized criminal networks during the month of September near one of the last remaining strongholds of savannah elephants in southern Africa.
“The elephant poaching crisis in northern Mozambique is dire. We are losing two elephant per day to organized criminals who are negatively impacting governance and security across the whole region. This renewed commitment from the government of Mozambique to tackle this crisis, to stop the poaching and clean up the illegal firearms and illegal use of firearms and ammunition, is encouraging,” said Alastair Nelson, Director of the WCS Mozambique Program. “The enforcement partnership between the Government, WCS, Luwire, and other private tourism operators has scored another victory in the fight against poachers in the country’s largest protected area with 70 percent of its elephant population.”
Two weeks before last Monday’s arrests, a similar operation succeeded in capturing a team of six ivory poachers with three firearms and a dozen elephant tusks, collectively worth more than $150,000. All poachers are now being held in custody and face a series of charges, including participation in poaching, illegal possession of firearms, possession of ivory, and involvement in organized crime.
Monday’s operation coincided with the Attorney-General of Mozambique introducing a new conservation law during a USAID-funded workshop. This new law will better protect elephants by increasing fines and jail time for poachers. It takes effect immediately and will be applied to the most recent poaching arrests.
The recent poaching arrests represent a crackdown by the government on organized poaching gangs suspected of illegally killing elephants in Niassa. One of the gangs arrested is suspected of poaching 39 elephants since the beginning of 2014. Importantly, eight illegal firearms have been taken out of circulation. Officials say this alone will save many elephants.
Spanning 42,000 square kilometers (more than 16,000 square miles), Niassa National Reserve is twice as large as world famous Kruger Park in South Africa and approximately the same size as the country of Denmark. It is home to lions, leopards, buffalo, sable antelope, African wild dogs and some 12,000 elephants, Mozambique’s largest population of elephants and one of the largest remaining populations in Africa.