January 31, 2016 10:54 am

3 arrested after anti-poaching pilot shot down in Tanzania

A five month old orphaned elephant called 'Tembo' being taken for a walk by his keeper at Tony Fitzjohn's Mkomazi rhino sanctury on June 19, 2012 in Mkomazi, Tanzania.

Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

JOHANNESBURG – Elephant poachers in Tanzania fired on a helicopter on an anti-poaching mission and killed the British pilot, and authorities said Sunday that they have arrested three suspects.

Roger Gower was shot Friday while flying on a joint operation with Tanzanian wildlife authorities who were tracking the poachers, the Friedkin Conservation Fund, which oversees some wildlife areas in Tanzania, said on its website.

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“This tragic event again highlights the appalling risk and cost of protecting Tanzania?s wildlife,” the Texas-based group said.

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Three suspects were arrested, said Jumanne Maghembe, Tanzania’s minister for tourism and natural resources. The minister pledged that any other suspects will be arrested in security operations after the attack in Maswa wildlife reserve, near Serengeti National Park.

Lazaro Nyalandu, a former minister of tourism and natural resources, wrote on Twitter that Gower was killed by AK-47 assault rifle fire.

“You loved our country and I knew you on many flights we took together,” Nyalandu wrote.

A co-pilot survived with injuries, Tanzanian authorities said.

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Britain’s Foreign Office confirmed the death of a Briton in Tanzania and said it was “providing assistance to the family at this difficult time.”

Rangers discovered the carcasses of three elephants that were killed by the same group of poachers that fired on the helicopter, said Paschal Shelutete, spokesman for Tanzania’s parks service.

Maswa, the park where Gower was operating, lies on the southwest boundary of Serengeti. The region’s massive wildebeest migration passes through Maswa in January and February, according to the Friedkin Conservation Fund. The park’s rangers encounter poachers on a regular basis, it said.

Tanzania has been identified as a key hotspot for elephant poachers. The elephant population declined by 60 per cent to about 40,000 since 2009, according to a census announced last year.

© 2016 The Associated Press

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