U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Statement from Bryan Arroyo, Assistant Director for International Affairs, on recent tragic news from Chinko National Park in the Central African Republic

January 27, 2017

David Fine. Credit: Bill Kanapaux / USFWSThe fight against wildlife poaching in Central Africa suffered a deep blow this week when a helicopter chartered by African Parks crashed near Chinko National Park in the Central African Republic, killing all three men on board, including two African Parks employees. Our heartfelt thoughts and sincere condolences are with the families, friends, and colleagues of the three deceased: David Fine, Head of Law Enforcement for Chinko National Park; his deputy, Sous-Lieutenant Mbenga-Nzongomblo Ponce Pilate; and the pilot, Shaun Barendsen, from National Airways Corporation.

David Fine (pictured right) had only recently joined the park staff at Chinko. After 15 years in the French Special Forces, he first became a hunting guide in Africa, an experience that led him to focus directly on anti-poaching activities in Central Africa. David was acutely aware of the challenges and danger he faced in confronting poachers and corruption. Over the course of the last several years, he took a lead in running and training anti-poaching patrols in some of Central Africa's most important protected areas, including Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Gabon's Wonga Wongué Presidential Reserve, where he helped the Gabonese National Parks Agency eliminate elephant poaching in a single year. David was excited to be working in Chinko National Park, where African Parks hopes to achieve a higher standard of park management and successfully conserve and restore key wildlife species, while also establishing a foothold for governance, security, and stability in the region.

David and his deputy, as well as the ecoguards and pilots who worked with them, consistently put their lives on the line to stop poachers from killing elephants and other endangered wildlife. The loss of David Fine, Mbenga-Nzongomblo Ponce Pilate, and Shaun Barendsen in this week’s helicopter crash is a grim reminder of the dangers and sacrifices that park rangers and their loved ones face on a daily basis to protect the wildlife – not just here, but around the world. We are deeply grateful for their bravery and dedication.