July 2024

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A helicopter was shot down by an AK-47 rifle in Tanzania. British helicopter pilot, Roger Gower, died in the attack. Three men have been arrested for the shooting.

A brave man

Gower and safari guide Nicky Bester were on an anti-poaching mission with Friedkin Conservation Fund and the Tanzanian wildlife authorities. They were tracking the poachers who had killed three elephants in Maswa Game Reserve – which is in the north of the country and borders Serengeti National Park. Rounds from an AK-47 rifle were fired from the ground. A bullet smashed through the floor of the helicopter, hit Gower twice, and then exited through the roof. In his final moments, Gower maneuvered the helicopter into a tree so that the craft would not explode and so that his companion could be able to jump out of the aircraft. Bester managed to hide from the poachers and call for help, but Gower died from his injuries before he could be rescued; he was 37. Tanzania’s former tourism minister Lazaro Nyalandu said:

Capt. Roger represented the very best in human spirit. He loved people and the wildlife. He died serving both.”

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The violence is not surprising

The top poachers can be compared to organized crime gangs. They are often very violent, armed with sophisticated military weapons, and connected with other criminals. The high demand for ivory in countries like China and Vietnam has increased poaching throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. World Animal Protection stated that 53 rangers died protecting animals last year.

“While many would be shocked to see violence at this level, it is a sad reflection of a brutal industry that incidents like this, while uncommon, are not surprising,” a spokeswoman told the ABC.

Nicola Beynon, Head of Campaigns, said:

“People at the top of the poaching wildlife industry are the most ruthless, they don’t care about animals and they don’t care about people.”

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Suspects arrested

Three men have been arrested in connection with the attack. Natural resources and tourism minister Jumanne Maghembe assured that:

“The suspects are in the hands of police. They are cooperating, and soon more people making up the poaching gang will be netted and brought to justice.”  

It is not yet known what the men will be charged with, but according to Pascal Shelutete – a spokesman from Tanzania National Parks:

“Three elephant carcasses that were found indicated that whoever shot the chopper down was on a serious illegal hunting spree.”  

Pratik Patel, a friend of Gower’s who was also on the operation, said that they had found evidence of ivory. He also speculated that the gun used to kill his friend was the same one used on the elephants.

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A war situation

According to Andy Payne, the director of the conservation:

“This sad loss is indeed evidence of how far armed poachers are prepared to go in order to protect themselves when threatened with an active anti-poaching force.”

He was surprised since they had been doing aerial patrols for seven years and their pilots had never been targeted before.  

“We will continue the fight to protect Tanzania’s wildlife and habitat in memory of Roger and the work he did.”  The chief executive of Wildlife at Risk International, Marleen Le Febvre, said that fighting poachers has become a war situation.  “…the people at the frontlines are risking their lives every day while trying to protect elephants and other species from being wiped out,” she said.  “This incident is a new low and has definitely crossed a new very sad and worrying line.”

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SEE ALSO: Tourists Help Save A Lion Trapped By Poachers In South Africa.