MAPUTO, MOZAMBIQUE (July 27, 2017)—The notorious leader of an East African ivory poaching network— Mateso Albana Kasian—has been arrested in Mozambique. Mateso was wanted by both Tanzanian and Mozambican authorities for orchestrating the slaughter of hundreds, possibly thousands, of elephants across southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique since 2012-2013.

The ivory kingpin was taken into custody by Mozambique’s National Criminal Investigation Service (SERNIC) in northern Mozambique on July 11, 2017.

Mozambique’s National Administration of Conservation Areas (ANAC) and Tanzania’s National & Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU), with the support of WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and the PAMS Foundation, have been cooperating since 2014 to track Mateso’s movements. He managed as many as seven armed poaching gangs in southern Tanzania in 2013 and moved his operations to northern Mozambique in 2013-14.

In September 2014, following the high-profile arrest of a professional ivory poaching gang in Niassa National Reserve, ANAC and WCS uncovered evidence that linked Mateso to the poaching and trafficking of over three tons of ivory in 2014 alone. The detained poachers confessed to working for Mateso and claimed that he operated other gangs in the reserve.

Mateso’s arrest would not have been possible without the careful coordination between authorities from both countries – specifically ANAC and SERNIC in Mozambique and the NTSCIU in Tanzania—and direct support from NGOs, including WCS and Niassa Wilderness in Mozambique, and the PAMS Foundation in Tanzania.

Poaching operations in Africa have grown increasingly sophisticated with injections of large amounts of cash from foreign ivory traffickers resulting in professionalized ivory poaching gangs armed with high-powered hunting rifles and AK-47s. Elephant populations have crashed as a result. Since 2011, Niassa National Reserve’s elephant population has declined from an estimated 12,029 to an estimated 3,675 in 2016. These organized poaching and trafficking gangs also spread corruption to in these remote border areas, leading to a general breakdown in law and order.

Earlier this year, with support from many partners, including the US Agency for International Development (USAID), WCS and WWF, Mozambique strengthened its wildlife legislation to criminalize trafficking of wildlife products and to improve its investigation and prosecution systems. This week ANAC is hosting a workshop with other law enforcement agencies in Mozambique to strengthen its coordination against wildlife crime. The recent arrest of Mateso is a tangible success of Mozambique’s efforts to counter wildlife trafficking.

The Wildlife Conservation Society co-manages the 16,000-square-mile Niassa National Reserve in northern Mozambique with ANAC, strengthening all reserve operations and building law enforcement capacity in particular. WCS is also supporting ANAC and other authorities at the national level in Mozambique to develop and respond to intelligence about international trafficking rings, and to coordinate with other countries and international law enforcement partners. In Tanzania WCS is also actively working to protect elephants in the hard-hit Ruaha-Katavi landscape which is home to Africa’s second largest elephant population, after Botswana.