A Tanzanian poacher who was a subject of a documentary co-produced by Leonardo DiCaprio has been acquitted of several wildlife trafficking charges, though he is in prison for a related crime.
Boniface Methew Malyango, nicknamed "The Devil Has No Mercy," was acquitted on Wednesday of illegal possession of elephant tusks and other charges, authorities in Tanzania said. However, he was sentenced in March to 12 years in prison for organized crime linked to wildlife trafficking.
The 2016 Netflix documentary "The Ivory Game" partly focuses on the activities of Malyango, who could have faced more years in prison if he had been convicted. A Tanzanian court this week concluded that there was not enough evidence to convict him, though several of his associates were sentenced to long prison terms.
Separately, the leader of an East African ivory poaching ring was arrested in Mozambique on July 11, the Wildlife Conservation Society said.
Mateso Albana Kasian, wanted for the killing of possibly thousands of elephants, led up to seven poaching gangs in southern Tanzania in 2013 before moving his operations to northern Mozambique, said the conservation group, which co-manages the Niassa National Reserve there.
Niassa's elephant population has dropped from about 12,000 in 2011 to an estimated 3,675 last year, according to the group. In a statement, it said "organized poaching and trafficking gangs also spread corruption to these remote border areas, leading to a general breakdown in law and order."
The number of Africa's savannah elephants dropped by about 30 percent from 2007 to 2014, to 352,000, because of poaching, according to a census completed in 2016.
China, the world's largest ivory consumer, has said it plans to shut down its ivory trade by the end of this year in a move designed to curb the mass slaughter of African elephants. Conservation groups believe criminal syndicates have used the legal Chinese market as cover for their illicit business in tusks.
Associated Press writer Christopher Torchia in Johannesburg contributed.