Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Four poachers arrested, 37 elephant tusks recovered in Namibia's Bwabwata National Park

A sting operation over the weekend led to the arrest of four men in connection with what is believed to be one of the largest consignments of elephant tusks to be confiscated in the Bwabwata National Park recent years. The joint operation between the Namibian Police (Nampol) and officials from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism led to the arrest and confiscation of 37 tusks from a truck at the Kongola checkpoint in the early hours of Saturday morning. The four men are Namibians, while the person suspected of being the mastermind behind the syndicate of wanton slaughter, a Zambian national, managed to slip away from the police. The four men appeared briefly in the Katima Mulilo Magistrate's Court yesterday on charges of dealing and unlawful possession of controlled game products. They are set to make another court appearance on August 19 and have been denied bail with magistrate Loretta Jagga saying the case is very serious and that they could interfere with police investigations. The suspects have been identified as 32-year-old Zambian national Mike Panza, who got away, Charles Isak Fredricks (46), Andreas Niivundo (35), Sydney Kilapile Malonzi (25) and 50-year-old Richard Nanjunga Malonzi. The deputy director for the north-eastern regions in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Cletius Maketo told New Era that law enforcement agents have been monitoring the Zambian national, Panza, since his arrival in Katima Mulilo last week. "He kept the tusks in an unoccupied house somewhere in the location, while he stayed at a B&B in town. From Thursday we were monitoring him and Friday we received information that he would load the tusks into the truck. "They did not load the tusks at the truck port, instead they went to load near the Mpacha airport. Three smaller vehicles came and loaded the illegal goods. We wanted to strike then, but decided to wait for them at the Kongola check point," Maketo said. Last week police also arrested a Zambian national, Mulenga Kasenge (32) at the Singalamwe border post carrying elephant tusks cut into small pieces to fit in a travel bag. He appeared in the Katima Mulilo Magistrate's Court on a charge of dealing and unlawful possession of controlled game products. Police seized some charms, apparently to make the poachers evade police detection, several rounds of ammunition and ten elephant tusks cut into 23 pieces in that sting operation. Kasenge, a nurse by profession at Imusho in Zambia, is still in police holding cells at Katima Mulilo. He was not asked to plead and was denied bail due to the seriousness of the crime. Panza is the suspect, whom the police believe is the mastermind in the ivory smuggling syndicate and who facilitated the purchase of ivory tusks and arranged for their transportation. Panza was also found with large sums of money amounting to about N$21 570 at the same roadblock, but in a different vehicle. Seargent Kisco Sitali, the police regional spokesperson, said it was Panza who during interrogation revealed the names of the suspects from whom he bought the tusks. "We got a tip off and mounted a roadblock at Kongola. When Panza was arrested he told us where he bought the elephant tusks and the suspects from Lizauli were arrested on the evening of Saturday," said Sitali. According to him the present case has no connection with the bust of illegal elephant tusks at Singalamwe border post last week. "This is a separate case and we are still on the hunt for suspects who escaped in the previous case. They are on foot and we ask people in the villages that if they see people they are not familiar with, to report them to the police. Their identities are known," said Seargent Sitali. Last year MET officials said 18 elephant carcasses were discovered in the north-eastern Bwabwata National Park killed by gangs of marauding poachers for their precious ivory, which is in high demand in Asian countries. Source: Online

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