The war against wildlife crime has taken another victim. While tracking elephant poachers from a helicopter over a game reserve in Tanzania, British pilot Roger Gower was shot by the criminals. He managed to fly the helicopter down into a tree, allowing his colleague and friend to jump out, before crashing the vehicle into the ground and succumbing to his injuries. Gower had been flying anti-poaching operations over the Maswa Game Reserve for the Friedkin Conservation Fund.
According to his colleague, Gower was flying near one of three elephant carcasses that had recently been killed when the poachers opened fire on the helicopter with an AK-47. One of the bullets passed through the floor of the helicopter and hit Gower in the leg, passing through and striking him again in the shoulder before exiting through the roof. Those responsible for the tragic event on Friday have been called “coward[s], evil, and sad people” by Lazaro Nyalandu, a former Tanzanian minister for natural resources and tourism.
The remains of the helicopter that Roger Gower was flying when he was shot by elephant poachers. Wildlife At Risk.
Dan Friedkin, the founder of the Friedkin Conservation Fund, said that the organization was “profoundly saddened by the loss of our dear friend.” He went on to tell the Press Association: “We are committed to honouring Roger and his work. We are also committed to ensuring that those responsible for this attack are found and brought to justice. We believe that Roger can best be honoured by redoubling our commitment to protect elephants and our priceless wildlife heritage.”
Within two days, the Tanzania police announced they had arrested three suspects thought to be involved with Gower’s death. They are accused of harboring and providing transport for those who fired the shots.
Gower, 37, was a former accountant from Birmingham, England, who trained as a pilot in 2004, before moving to Kenya where he worked for 10 years flying both commercial and anti-poaching flights. It is thought that he only recently moved to Tanzania, and only began working for the Friedkin Conservation Fund in Maswa since October or November. “He was excited about the job. It’s a shame he hasn’t had an opportunity to do it for longer,” Gower’s brother, Max, told The Guardian.
“He was flying a lot of anti-poaching,” continues Max. “He would never have gone near a poacher with a gun. As I understand it, he was taken by surprise, he didn’t see the poachers until he was very close to them. I don’t know whether the guy was shooting to kill or not, but he killed him.” Max has now set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise $72,000 (£50,000) to help anti-poaching efforts in Tanzania, to make sure his brother’s tragic death was not in vain.