Rangers in project backed by British aid were ‘complicit in slaughter of elephants’

Elephants Credit: ITV News

An ITV News investigation has uncovered allegations that a group of anti-poaching rangers working in a British aid-supported project were complicit in the slaughter of elephants.

More than 10,000 elephants were killed in and around Ruaha National Park in Tanzania in 2014 alone, in what became one of the bloodiest symbols of the ivory trade.

But ITV News has seen a paper co-written by a British scientist revealing that elephant carcasses were found close to three ranger posts, and the rangers are the very people who were paid to protect the elephants.

Dr Colin Beale, of York University and author of the paper, told ITV News: “We see these hotspots around two or three of the ranger posts… somehow the rangers are probably complicit in the poaching.

“From elsewhere, we know that they may be passing information to the poachers about where and when it’s safe to poach and when patrols are going out.

"Or a much smaller proportion might actively be involved in poaching themselves.”

Elephants are targeted for their ivory tusks. Credit: ITV News

ITV News spent months investigating what happened in Ruaha National Park, and spoke to numerous witnesses who were there at the time.

One government ranger, whose identity we have protected for his safety, told us some rangers were even giving the poachers ammunition.

He said: “They give them rounds. For example, the poacher has a gun but he has no ammunition, so he gets it from the ranger.”

One ranger told ITV News that other rangers were offering ammunition to the poachers. Credit: ITV News

The rangers worked for Tanzania’s National Park association, but were supported and funded by a United Nations Development Programme project called Spanest.

Documents show that Spanest has received at least £3.7 million in international aid, including well-intentioned money originating from Britain’s Department for International Development.

It also received money from the US Government, channelled through the Global Environment Facility fund.

  • Africa Correspondent John Ray discusses the report, which he believes raises "disturbing questions" and asks if failure is being rewarded.

The project was held in such high regard by the United Nations, that it was even visited by Helen Clarke, the one-time hopeful to become UN Secretary General.

But between 2013 and 2015, the park saw a catastrophic collapse in elephant numbers, going from one of Africa’s biggest elephant populations, to a fraction of its former size.

Mary Rice, Executive Director of the Environmental Investigation Agency, said that aid projects should only get funding based upon results.

She said: “It’s not about whether the money has been spent on new vehicles or workshops or night vision binoculars, but what impact has that had?

"If you can’t show the impact for the millions of pounds that you have spent, you shouldn’t be getting the money in the first place.”

The Tanzanian Government said the allegations are 'an issue for further investigation'. Credit: ITV News

In response to the ITV News report, the Tanzanian Government said: "This should not be taken as an institutionalised system that operated with the tacit knowledge of the authorities."

They continued that environmental factors could also be an explanation, saying: "In the absence of any one known single cause it is our view the presence of an unusually high number of carcasses around these posts is an issue for further investigation."

There are fears some rangers could even be involved in poaching. Credit: ITV News

A spokesperson for the United Nations Development Plan (UNDP) said: "UNDP is fully behind global efforts to tackle poaching and the illegal trade of wildlife.

"Through this work UNDP supports countries to diversify rural livelihoods, manage human-wildlife conflict, strengthen protected area management, share the benefits from sustainable wildlife management with local communities, and strengthen enforcement responses.

"UNDP condemns poaching in all its forms.

"The killing of any elephant is a crime.

"UNDP remains committed in this fight, working closely with governments, civil society, and the private sector to combat the illegal wildlife trade in both supply and demand countries.

"Issues of corruption across the illegal supply chain of ivory remain one of the greatest challenges in the battle to protect elephants and safeguard the livelihoods and broader societal benefits these majestic creatures provide through tourism and other economic activities.

"UNDP is committed to the highest standards of accountability and transparency, and has rigorous systems and procedures in place to prevent its funds being used for illegal purposes.

"UNDP has zero tolerance for wrongdoing.

"Anyone with information regarding wrongdoing involving UNDP projects is encouraged to contact our investigations hotline at +17707765678."

Spanest has received at least £3.7 million in international aid. Credit: ITV News