Hunted down! Dramatic moment a notorious gang of ivory poachers are caught in an undercover sting in Zambia


Colin Fernandez, The Daily Mail

Date Published

See link for photos. 

This is the moment a notorious ivory poacher was finally caught in an undercover sting by a new anti-poaching hit squad.

Hours earlier William Ngulube had aimed his rifle at a defenceless bull elephant, ruthlessly picking his spot so the magnificent tusker would bleed into its lungs and be incapacitated as it slowly died in agony.

Now the tables are turned and it is Ngulube who is starring down the barrel of a gun. 

No more the swaggering killer, he starts crying as he is clapped in handcuffs, and screams: ‘Mamma, mamma, help me!’

Crammed inside the car — far too big to fit in the boot — are the 5ft-long tusks agonisingly ripped from the body of the dying 40-year-old bull elephant.

The ivory, weighing more than 10st, would have been worth nearly £100,000 to international ivory dealers. With Ngulube, 32, there were two other poachers — Gabriel Male, who had evaded arrest for years, and Julias Kapomba — as well as an undercover officer posing as an ivory buyer.

The newly-formed anti-poaching commando squad belonging to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in Zambia had lured the gang by promising £20,000 for the ivory — a vast fortune in the lawless outback of Eastern Zambia.

Few elephants with these huge tusks remain as they are so highly targeted by poachers and traders, as these pictures taken by photographer Roger Allen show.

Mike Labuschagne, who runs anti-poaching criminal investigations for IFAW’s Malawi/Zambia Elephant Landscape Project, says: ‘It is vital to capture and convict both hardened “trigger pullers” and first link traders who are key to the huge global illegal ivory supply chain, which IFAW is working to break. 

For this dangerous work we need to work closely with local people to protect their wildlife.

‘Having strong intelligence is key to our successful investigations and we have many local people willing to inform us when they know of illegal poaching.’

Mr Labuschagne’s commando unit had been working at Kasungu National Park in Malawi, which had lost 90 per cent of its large animals, including cheetahs and lions, over the years. 

But within a few months, the team made 152 arrests locally and 36 in cross-border operations.

Before IFAW began working in the park, four to five elephants were poached each month, but under Mike’s leadership, only one elephant was killed and the poachers were quickly brought to justice.

The IFAW team, working in co-operation with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, is now aiming for similar results in Luambe National Park in Zambia.

Mr Labuschagne adds: ‘We are seeing a clear reduction in poaching incidents in Kasungu in the short time we have had a presence there, and we are working to achieve the same through these intelligence led operations in Zambia and close co-operation with our partners to protect the remaining wildlife. 

‘If we do not do this work, using our combined skills and experience to tackle organised illegal wildlife trade that fuels the global market, these animals will be lost for ever.’

All three men caught in the Zambia sting have been charged with illegal possession of ivory and illegal trading. 

They face five years in jail — regardless of who killed the elephant, as it is the handling of the ivory that carries this sentence. 

Under new legislation in Malawi, similar offences now carry a 20-year sentence.

An all-out ban on ivory sales could still be introduced in Britain, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said earlier this week. 

At the moment sales of antique ivory, items made before 1947, is allowed.

MPs urged Mr Johnson to follow through on the party’s 2015 manifesto pledge to introduce a ‘total ban on ivory sales’ to curb the impact of the trade on elephant populations. 

Mr Johnson told MPs on Tuesday: ‘We have a commitment in this Government to an all-out ban on the sale of ivory in this country and that is what we intend to pursue.’