Murchison Falls National Park, Pakwach, Uganda - Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash

Exemplary conviction for the slaughter of elephants in the National Park of Upemba (DRC)

During more than eight years, Lunda Ngandu Rombo, leader of an illegal group of poachers, systematically slaughtered elephants in the protected area of the National Park of Upemba in the south of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On Wednesday 24 February 2021, he was found guilty of criminal association and poaching, more specifically the killing of protected species, by the Military Tribunal of Kamina, in the capital of Haut-Lomami province. He was sentenced to 20 years of penal servitude and a payment of $25,000 (twenty-five thousand US dollars) to the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN), as compensation for the damage suffered.

With the support of the EU, IUCN NL is helping partner organisation Forgotten Parks Foundation (FPF) to professionalize the management of the Upemba National Park. In July 2017, the NGO Forgotten Parks Foundation signed a fifteen-year contract with the Congolese government agency ICCN, to manage and develop the Upemba-Kundelungu Complex. More about how IUCN NL helps develop the Upemba-Kundelungu Complex can be read here.

Tina Lain, senior expert environmental justice at IUCN NL and closely involved in the partnership with FPF, is pleased with the conviction. She explains:  ‘’Despite its status as national park, poachers have been able to operate in Upemba for years, which has led to severe declines in biodiversity. Of the circa one hundred thousand elephants that once roamed this area, just two hundred are left. Time is really running out for this protected area, but this conviction makes us hopeful for the future.’

Augustin Ngumbi, CITES officer for the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation, adds: ‘This conviction represents a historic achievement for the DRC authorities and signifies the end of the impunity enjoyed for so many years by those involved in elephant poaching. This is the heaviest sentence given to an individual in the DRC for a wildlife crime, and it sends a strong message that such criminal acts will no longer be tolerated,’

Between 2009 and 2017, Rombo Lunda and his associates, one of whom, Kamandji Ekonda Gustave, was sentenced to 10 years of penal servitude on Wednesday 24 February 2021, committed criminal acts involving armed poaching with weapons and ammunition of war, causing a high level of insecurity in the National Park of Upemba. These acts disturbed the tranquillity of the elephants who, feeling threatened, responded violently by going into the surrounding villages, causing loss of human life and destruction of fields and houses in the territories of Malemba-Nkulu, Bukama and Kamina, more precisely in the Kinda sector.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the elephant is among the protected animal species. The law of 11 February 2014 on nature conservation prohibits the ‘deliberate taking, hunting, fishing, capturing, harassing or killing of specimens of protected species’. The National park of Upemba, located in the south-east of Haut-Lomani, shelters a large part of the elephants of the region and ensures their protection under the administration of its Provincial Director and Head of Site, Mr Robert Muir.

‘We are very pleased with this decision. It acknowledges a fruitful partnership between ICCN and the local and judicial authorities in the fight against poaching in the DRC and shines a light on the strict and perfect application of Law 14 on nature conservation. Furthermore, it is a demonstration of the determination of authorities in the fight to protect the environment and endangered species,’ said Muir.

This ruling represents an opportunity to criminalise acts of poaching and harm against protected species, and to further deter and punish offenders.

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Header photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash

Tina Lain

Senior Expert Environmental Justice