The following statement is from Dr. Emma Stokes, WCS Regional Director of Central Africa, on the 30-year sentence handed down on Aug. 19, 2020 by a criminal court in the Republic of Congo to a notorious poacher for attempted murder of park rangers, ivory trafficking, and other charges. The sentence marks the first-ever conviction in the criminal courts of a wildlife trafficker in the Republic of Congo:
“This week, a criminal court in the Republic of Congo sentenced a notorious poacher and ivory trafficker, Mobanza Mobembo Gérard, alias ‘Guyvanho,’ to 30 years in prison for the attempted murder of Park rangers, trafficking of ivory from poached elephants, possession of military weapons, and other charges. He was also required to pay damages of 38 million Central African Francs (~USD 68,000) to the injured rangers.
“The sentencing is the culmination of more than three years of work by the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park’s Wildlife Crime Unit and Anti-Poaching department. It is also the result of fruitful cooperation with multiple Congolese authorities, including the Ministry of Forest Economy, the Police, and District Prosecutors. Investigations had revealed that Guyvanho led a group of approximately 25 poachers that based on the number of hunts reported could have killed upwards of 500 elephants in the area since 2008.
“This unprecedented conviction in the criminal court is a major milestone in the protection of wildlife in the Republic of Congo. 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. We are confident that today’s sentence will serve as a deterrent to would-be criminals that you will serve hard time if you break our wildlife laws and put park rangers and Congo’s national security in danger. After his sentencing, an official from the Sangha District court declared: ‘this verdict confirms the fact that under the pretext of being poaching gangs, it is actually well-organized criminal gangs operating in our forests.’
Background/Timeline of Arrest and Conviction
In early 2018, Guyvanho - a citizen of the Democratic Republic of Congo who had arrived in northern Republic of Congo around 2008 - and several other members of his team were caught in an operation led by Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park rangers having killed 11 elephants. A firefight ensued and Guyvanho was initially able to escape, but three members of his team were arrested. Their statements provided sufficient grounds for an arrest warrant to be issued against him. In addition to the number of elephants killed, this incident demonstrated the willingness of this group to respond with violence when challenged. This was indicative of a trend of increasing violence of elephant poaching gangs in and around the Park.
In May 2018, Guyvanho was arrested and remanded in prison in the provincial town of Ouesso to await trial. However, on 2 June 2018, 12 days before his trial was to take place, Guyvanho escaped from the Ouesso prison. Nonetheless his trial went ahead, and he was sentenced in absentia to 5 years in prison with a 5 million Central African Franc (approximately USD 9000) fine.
A further arrest warrant was issued – he remained a priority target of the Park’s Wildlife Crime Unit (WCU) - and locations known to be used by Guyvanho were monitored, but no further progress was made in arresting him. However, he was cited as a participant in a number of subsequent hunts, each of which featured exchanges of gunfire with Park rangers.
On 31st May 2019 a ranger patrol returning to Park HQ happened across a group of poachers – including Guyvanho – returning from a hunt. The patrol was fired upon by the poachers, resulting in the wounding of two patrol members (one of whom was seriously wounded and whose life was saved by the medical training of other rangers).
Guyvanho was again able to escape but was reported to have bragged about the incident. This information was passed to the authorities along with a new location for Guyvanho’s home. A surveillance operation was launched to confirm the information from the WCU, and, based on this information, Guyvanho was arrested by the Ouesso police on 20 July 2019.
Guyvanho was returned to prison in Ouesso to serve his sentence but following a further escape attempt, this time unsuccessful, it became clear that Guyvanho had a sufficiently strong support network in Ouesso that another escape attempt would be highly likely. A transfer to Brazzaville prison was therefore requested by the Park authorities and approved and in August 2019 Guyvanho and 3 associates were successfully moved.
All will be transferred back to Brazzaville next week to serve their sentences.
The Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park is governed by a 25-year Public Private Partnership between the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Government of the Republic of Congo through the Nouabalé-Ndoki Foundation