A Congolese elephant poacher believed to have been responsible for the killing of as many as 500 of the vulnerable species in the past 12 years has become the first person sent to jail for doing so in the Central African country.
Mobanza Mobembo Gerard, also known as Guyvanho, was found guilty by the criminal court of the Republic of Congo last week.
Local authorities investigating his crimes found he led a team of more than two dozen poachers.
In early 2018, three of them were caught by rangers in the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, where they were believed to be participating in a hunt that killed 11 elephants.
Guyvanho was able to escape during an ensuing firefight between the poachers and rangers, but an arrest warrant was issued.
He was captured and taken to jail in May 2018, but 12 days before his trial he was able to escape.
He was sentenced in absentia to five years jail and a $12,400 fine.
While on the run it’s believed he participated in several more hunts, each of which involved gunfire being exchanged with park rangers.
In one instance two park rangers were wounded when they happened across Guyvanho and other poachers returning from a hunt.
Guyvanho was arrested again in July last year and has now been sentenced to 30 years in prison and fined more than $93,000.
“This unprecedented conviction in the criminal court is a major milestone in the protection of wildlife in the Republic of Congo,” Wildlife Conservation Society Central Africa director Dr Emma Stokes said.
“Previously, all environmental crimes were tried in the civil courts where the maximum penalty under the wildlife law was five years.
“Today’s sentencing sends an extremely strong message that wildlife crime will not be tolerated and will be prosecuted at the highest levels,” Dr Stokes said.
She added the Society was confident the sentence will serve as a deterrent to would-be poachers