Bringing Justice to Central Africa's Elephants

Some welcome news from the Republic of Congo – the notorious kingpin of an elephant poaching and ivory trafficking network, operating with impunity in a National Park in the north of the country for many years, has finally been arrested and will be prosecuted.

Although long suspected of his role in the disappearance of wildlife from Odzala-Kokoua National Park, Ngondjo Ghislain, aka ‘Pepito’, had evaded capture over the years due to a combination of a lack of concrete evidence and the protection of corrupt officials. But that status quo recently began to unravel for Pepito.

In criminal networks like Pepito’s, trust is everything. The trust in one’s companions in crime is what oils the illegal supply and demand chain and breaking that bond of trust is therefore critical to disrupting its operation. For Pepito the end began when the arrest of two poachers in the park led to the arrest of another who in turn gave details of Pepito’s illegal activities. More evidence was gathered when a firearm amnesty led to other statements incriminating Pepito as the buyer of ivory and supplier of guns and ammunition. It later emerged that some wildlife rangers had been working in collusion with Pepito, supplying him with information about patrol routes and planned ambushes, thus allowing him to remain at large.

Pepito was recently finally arrested and taken to the local police station, but that was only half the story over. A riot was started outside the building by Pepito’s collaborators and fearing his escape, park officials moved Pepito to a more secure location 100km south of the park under cover of darkness.

Born Free is proud to be supporting PALF (Project for the Application of Law for Fauna), who have been working tirelessly to ensure that justice is achieved for Central Africa’s beleaguered forest elephants. In the Pepito case, as in many others, PALF has pushed hard for the full support of the judiciary, so critical for the successful prosecution of such cases. As Naftali Honig, PALF’s co-ordinator explains:

“All too often in the past, anti-poaching has focused on the poachers, satisfying itself with the little guy. These new cases in court in Congo are an example of a major dealer being arrested as the pinnacle of years of intelligence gathering and around a year of arrests concerning this particular trafficking network.

We have seen a lot of attempts to peddle influence in the courts in Congo, and lost cases because of it, but when a court gets serious about prosecuting all the members of an ivory trafficking network, as we are now seeing in this case, then the tables turn.

Unfortunately, this degree of depth of investigation into an ivory trafficking network is the exception rather than the rule. As Central Africa's elephant populations continue to get hammered, we need to focus on dismantling the big networks and weeding out the corruption that nourishes them in order to properly combat the illegal ivory phenomenon”.

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