The official search for the killers of British helicopter pilot Roger Gower has been intensified and all those involved in the murder will soon be known to the public, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Maj Gen Gaudence Milanzi, has vowed.
Addressing a press conference here yesterday, Milanzi confirmed the arrest of at least six key suspects and said a few others still at large would also be apprehended soon.
“The investigation is going on very well and we remain committed to ensuring that all those involved in the brutal killing are brought to justice,” the PS said.
Milanzi returned on Wednesday evening from a visit to the scene of the murder in the Maswa Game Reserve bordering Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania, where he received a proper briefing on what exactly transpired.
Gower (37) was shot by suspected elephant poachers in the reserve on Friday last week while flying over the area on a joint anti-poaching operation with Tanzanian wildlife authorities.
Describing the scenario that led to the pilot’s death, Milanzi said it appeared that Gower was targeted because he flew his helicopter right over a freshly-killed elephant, whose carcass was later discovered by park rangers.
The PS further clarified that the incident took place at around 5.30 in the evening and a rescue mission arrived at the scene, deep inside the bushy game reserve, some two hours later.
He appeared to dismiss earlier reports that it took the rescue team too long to get there.
Flying doctors from Arusha and Nairobi and other rescue workers also managed to reach the scene after experiencing difficulties negotiating the dense forest, Milanzi added.
“The incident occurred very deep in the thick forest but both teams tried their best to be there within the shortest time,” he said.
Some initial western media reports said there were several elephant carcasses in the area where the incident occurred. But according to the PS, there was only one carcass which Gower tried to get closer to before his plane was fired upon.
Gower and his navigator, South African-born Nicky Bester, had been sent to investigate reports of gunshots being heard in the bush about 12 miles (19 kilometers) from their base. Bester escaped with minor injuries.
They were working under a collaborative arrangement between the Friedkin Conservation Fund and the government to try to curb an explosion of “industrial-scale poaching” in recent years.
Milanzi declined to comment on allegations that some government officials were colluding with the poachers, saying the truth will be known once investigations are complete and all suspects are in custody.
He said the reports of the poachers’ existence in the area first filtered in on January 27 – two days before the incident.
The matter has been raised in the ongoing National Assembly session here with Mwibara legislator Kangi Lugola (CCM) accusing the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) intelligence unit of colluding with poachers and thereby compromising government efforts to end the vice.
Contributing to the parliamentary debate on the government’s 2016/17 development plan for the country, Lugola called on the government to take serious disciplinary action against members of the unit.
He said a proper investigation of the unit was long overdue if poaching activities in the country’s game reserves – a top tourist attraction – are to be brought under control.
Describing the Gower killing as an eye-opener, the lawmaker said: “It is shameful and irresponsible that an aircraft employed by the government can be gunned down by so-called poachers. What is the work of the unit?”.