Major Anti-poaching Breakthrough at Odzala-Koua National Park, Republic of the Congo

by May 9, 2013Conservation Threats, Ivory, Wildlife News

African Parks Network is pleased to report that a major anti-poaching breakthrough has been made at Odzala-Kokoua National Park with the arrest of the kingpin of a regional ivory poaching and trafficking ring.

The arrest of Ngondjo Ghislain, alias “Pépito”, represents a coup for park manager Leon Lamprecht and his law enforcement team who have been working in extremely difficult circumstances to combat poaching in and around Odzala in recent months.

Pépito had long been suspected by park management to be a major poacher in the region, however, concrete evidence of his involvement was difficult to obtain. He was exposed in March when another wanted poacher, Iwelengue Mity, was arrested after two years on the run and gave details of Pepito’s activities. Mitty was in turn was fingered by two other poachers arrested in the park in recent months.

Odzala’s recently launched firearm amnesty programme also played a major role in the arrest of Pepito. In terms of this programme, owners of illegal firearms could surrender their firearms and receive temporary work as eco-guards. Statements from two people surrendering their firearms named Pepito as the person supplying the firearm or ammunitions, or as the buyer of ivory.

An arrest warrant for Pepito was issued by the regional prosecutor in Ewo on 23 April and the park’s anti-poaching team arrested him and an accomplice a few days later, with the assistance of the local Gendarme. After being taken to the Gendarme building, however, Pepito’s collaborators started rioting outside the building and park staff were forced to move him at night to Ewo where he is currently facing prosecution. Information gathered by the park’s intelligence officer indicated that several park eco-guards had been collaborating with Pepito by providing him with information on park patrol routes and planned ambushes.

Following the arrest of Pepito, several suspected eco-guards were interrogated and evidence gathered of Pepito’s alleged activities, which include supplying hunters in local villages with firearms and ammunition to hunt elephant on his behalf. The ivory is then allegedly carried by porters from Mbomo through the forest, past the control post at Ebana, before being transported by road.

“Pepito allegedly has influential connections that previously secured him immunity against prosecution, and we are very relieved to have him behind bars,” says Lamprecht.

“I would like to pay special tribute to the prosecutor in Ewo who issued the warrant for Pepito’s arrest and who has insisted that proper judicial processes are followed.”

In a separate anti-poaching blitz in April, Operation Nettoyage de Kelle, the park’s law enforcement team joined forces with Lossi Gorilla Sanctuary just outside Odzala after discovering evidence of considerable poaching in the Kelle area. Intelligence reports indicated that Pepito and his poaching gangs had moved into this area as a result of anti-poaching operations inside the park.

One day after the joint operation commenced, eco-guards from Lossi managed to arrest a poacher carrying two tusks weighing 32 kg. The arrest led to the location of another cache 65 km west of the town of Kelle containing 16 more tusks (weighing 16.2 kg), as well as two AK47 firearms, nine magazines and 106 rounds of ammunition. Further investigations are continuing.

African Parks would like to commend the following people and organisations for helping to achieve this breakthrough amidst very trying circumstances.

  • Odzala park manager Leon Lamprecht, law enforcement manager, Mathieu Eckel, and park intelligence officer, Nicaise Ngoulou, for their unwavering commitment to stopping elephant poaching at Odzala.
  • The Odzala eco-guard teams for helping to arrest Pepito and other perpetrators.
  • The NGO, PALF, for monitoring the judicial process, and in particular for their help in ensuring Pepito’s incarceration.
  • Pascal Goma, the Lossi conservator, and his eco-guard team for their dedication in arresting the poacher in Kelle.
  • The Mbomo Gendarme and the Kelle Police.
  • The Ewo prosecutor for his incorruptible dedication towards combating the ivory trade.

For further information, please contact:
Jane Edge, communications director, African Parks
Leon Lamprecht, park manager, Odzala-Kokoua National Park