Elephant Poachers Kill Helicopter Pilot In Tanzania – Aircraft Is Shot At, Fatally Wounding Pilot Assisting Wildlife Authorities

Elephant poachers in Tanzania killed a helicopter pilot while he was helping wildlife authorities. The poachers fired upon the aircraft that the British pilot was flying, fatally wounding him. So far, local authorities have managed to arrest three suspects.

A British helicopter pilot was fatally shot by elephant poachers while he was flying an anti-poaching mission. He was circling a dead elephant that had in all likelihood been butchered by the poachers for the ivory, when the aircraft was fired upon. Despite sustaining life-threatening injuries, the pilot tried his best to safely land the helicopter. The pilot succumbed to his injuries while waiting for rescuers, confirmed a Member of Parliament and a conservation fund. So far, Tanzanian authorities have apprehended three suspects believed to have fired at the helicopter and killing the pilot.

The helicopter pilot has been identified as Roger Gower, a British national. He was working with Tanzanian wildlife authorities and was flying to observe a dead elephant. Right when he was hovering above the carcass, poachers fired on his helicopter and fatally wounded him. Gower managed to land the chopper but died before he was able to be rescued, said Lazaro Nyalandu, the country’s former tourism minister, reported CNN. Nyalandu added that Gower was an experienced pilot and he had accompanied Gower on many occasions,

“You loved our country and I knew you on many flights we took together. “

Confirming the incident on Twitter, Nyalandu said Gower was helping rangers find the killers of an elephant when the poachers fired at the helicopter. The weapon these poachers used to fire at the helicopter was an AK-47 assault rifle, he noted. The incident happened in Maswa Game Reserve, which borders the Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania, reported BBC.

A few reports indicate Roger Gower was flying the helicopter quite close to an elephant that had been killed by poachers when his helicopter came under fire. However, Pascal Shelutete, a spokesman for Tanzania’s national parks, mentioned that he was to observe about three elephant carcasses that had been found in the area by rangers.

“Whoever shot the chopper down was on a serious illegal hunting spree. Such poachers can be heavily armed with sophisticated military weaponry.”

Roger Gower was shot Friday while flying on a joint operation with Tanzanian wildlife authorities who were tracking the poachers, reported The Star. Friedkin Conservation Fund, a Texas-based wildlife conservation group which oversees some wildlife areas in Tanzania, wrote:

“This tragic event again highlights the appalling risk and cost of protecting Tanzania’s wildlife.”

Gower was accompanied by a co-pilot, who survived with minor injuries. The Britain’s Foreign Office officially acknowledged the death of the helicopter pilot and added that it was “providing assistance to the family at this difficult time.”

Maswa, where Gower’s helicopter came under fire, lies on the southwest boundary of Serengeti. The region witnesses a massive migration of wildebeest in these months. Rangers regularly encounter poachers during this time and have to be extra vigilant because these animal killers pack a lot of ammunition and are quite trigger happy.

Elephant Poachers Kill Helicopter Pilot In Tanzania
(Image via Tanzania National Parks)

Tanzania is a considered one of the most dangerous regions for elephants. With an exceptionally large area to cover and rather poorly armed staff, it is relatively easy for poachers to target their favorite animal – the elephant. The condition is so bad, elephant population in the region plummeted by 60 percent to since 2009. A census conducted last year indicated that fewer than 40,000 elephants remain in the wild.

Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Jumanne Maghembe mentioned that the poachers who were arrested, are cooperating and authorities are confident of not just locating others who had killed the helicopter pilot, but also those who murdered the elephants for ivory.

[Photo by Sabah Arar / Getty Images]