After over a year in Tanzanian custody, the infamous elephant poacher, Boniface Matthew Mariango, has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for his wildlife crimes. Boniface earned his popular nickname, “The Devil Has No Mercy” in Swahili, for leading an organized elephant poaching syndicate that spanned five African nations.
Mariango’s October 2015 arrest was captured on film in Leonardo DiCaprio’s Netflix doc “The Ivory Game,” a film that dives into elephant poaching networks in Africa and the thriving ivory trade in Asia. Mariango was arrested along with his brothers and associates, Lucas Mathayo Mariango and Abdallah Ally Chaoga, while trying to smuggle 118 tusks worth more than $860,000 USD. Last Friday, a Tanzanian court convicted him for leading an organized crime syndicate and will further consider his links with a variety of gangs central to the illegal wildlife trade and the killing of thousands of elephants.
This is a significant step in a substantial international effort to turn the tide on surging illicit trade networks fueled by wildlife crime. Mariango’s case sheds light on the systems of crime, corruption, and black market demand that threaten some of earth’s most endangered species. Many who risk their lives to fight poaching agree that it’s about time that the powers that be recognize wildlife crime as a global security threat. It’s one thing to protect elephants from poaching on the grounds that it’s wrong to saw the ivory off of their face. It’s another when we realize that poaching and trafficking are part of organized crime networks. These organized crime networks thrive on the same global instability as terror networks and drug cartels. Mariango’s sentencing is an early, but important step in the international acknowledgment that fighting wildlife crime is fighting global insecurity.
On the same day as Mariango’s sentencing, reports emerged that Kenyan Wildlife Officers shot and killed 4 poachers during a sting in Tsavo East National Park. One officer was killed and another injured. With China announcing that it will end its ivory trade by the end of the year, it seems poachers are desperate to benefit from the surging market. With The Devil going to prison and poaching battles raging as the market is threatened, the war on wildlife crime seems to be entering a new phase.