Lagodekhi Reserve Rangers Are under Attack

Kakheti news center published an article “Lagodekhi Reserve Rangers Are under Attack” via social network on August 18, 2016.

Georgian Society for the Protection and Safety of Animals – GSPSA finds the information mentioned in the article disturbing and thinks the ministry of the environmental protection and natural resources of Georgia is responsible along with prosecutor office and all the official bodies who should respond to such fact and punish criminals. Based on the existing information GSPSA is sure that the problem issues could be solved, but high rank officials are favoring poachers and in fact work against administration and rangers of the protected area.

GSPSA offers full support to Lagodekhi Protected Area Agency Administration and its Director Mr. Giorgi Sulamanidze and will act against the act of crime. GSPSA will also inform the partners of ministry of the environmental protection and natural resources and international organizations regarding these disturbing facts and will demand from Georgian authorities to punish all those who destroy ecosystem, poach or support poachers.

GSPSA is sure that Giorgi Sulamanidze belongs to the minority of state officials who actually take active measures against poachers as prescribed by law. The attempts to threat Giorgi continue, while the poachers are physically attacking rangers.

Article of Kakheti News Center (unalatered):

Lagodekhi Reserve Rangers Are under Attack

reinjerebiMasked poachers armed with carbines attacked rangers in Lagodekhi Reserve. The rangers tried to catch the poachers. As a result, one of the rangers – Giorgi Gelashvili received a head wound. The wound required several stitches. The police has not caught the criminals yet. Moreover, the investigators have not interrogated the rangers who participated in the anti-poaching operation.

Incident occurred on August 8. According to the head of administration of Lagodekhi Protected Area, Giorgi Sulamanidze, the rangers were conducting anti-poaching operation on August 7-8. “At first four rangers participated. According to initial information, two poachers were spotted in reserve. It turned out that two different groups were hunting the specific gorge –  the first two-men group entered the gorge in the morning of August 7, while the second consisting of four people came on August 8 and were caught into rangers’ ambush. The poachers were travelling downwards, they were masked and armed with carbines. When the poachers spotted rangers, they threw stones at them and charged the guns. Stones wounded one ranger in the head. As the forces were equal and one ranger was wounded, the rangers did not pursue the poachers, according to the safety protocol. Wounded ranger was transferred to hospital, where he received medical assistance and stitches were put in place,” – Giorgi Sulamanidze explained to Kakheti News Center.

Administration of Lagodekhi Protected Area informed the ministry of environmental protection and natural resources about the fact and ministry, in turn, passed information to the police. Investigation started based on Article 118 of the Criminal Code – deliberate physical damage of lesser extent.

According to Kakheti News Center, the police with the help of rangers arrested the two poachers of the first group. They were armed and tur meat was found at their places of dwellings. Despite the evidence, the police released the poachers under citation.

As for attack on the rangers, the police have not identified the second group of four people who physically attacked the rangers. Moreover, the investigation has not interrogated the rangers who participated in the operation. The ministry of internal affairs says that the rangers were interrogated.

According to Giorgi Sulamanidze, after active recent activities the animals have become abundant in the protected areas and you need not go far to find them anymore. The head of administration of Lagodekhi Reserve thinks that it is the reason for significantly increased poaching within the recent two months.

“Only in the last 10 days we conducted 6 anti-poaching operations. We protect the future of Georgia, its wealth. We have state and community support and our team is strong. We will continue our work with more vigor and enthusiasm. We will not allow the poachers to repeat the 90ies. I will remind you that in 90ies due to poaching the number of large mammals drastically decreased in Lagodekhi Reserve. For instance, according to 1989 data, 1400 deer and 2500 Eastern Caucasian turs were in the area while in 1999 only 70 deer and 120 turs remained.” – mentions Sulamanidze.

The increasing number of visitors to Lagodkehi Protected Area should also be noted. According to the statistics, 45 000 people visited Lagodekhi Reserve in 2015, 12 % increase is already prominent this year.

“The increase in number of visitors greatly helps the population to improve socio-economic conditions. 8 new family owned guesthouses were opened this year, about 30 individuals are renting horses, not to mention catering and transport, guides, etc.” – explains Giorgi Sulamanidze.

The ministry of the environmental protection and natural resources has not spread the news on attack on rangers and none of the high rank officials of the ministry has expressed public support to rangers.

We should remind you that in April, 2015 a grenade was placed in the truck of the car of the head of administration of Lagodekhi Protected Area – Giorgi Sulamanidze with a note: GO AWAY! The grenade was not fully activated and Sulamanidze was saved, because his deputy noticed the grenade. The mentioned crime has not been investigated.

The mentioned fact was not the only threat towards Giorgi Sulamanidze. Prior to grenade, an unidentified individual cut the breaks in his car. Investigation started, but later the police stopped all activities on the ground that the damage was below 70 GEL. The director of the reserve links the threats with struggle against poachers.

An investigator – 29 year old Bakur Bakashvili still works in Lagodekhi police. He was spotted while poaching and openly threatens rangers. “I am taking my daughter (7 year old) to hunt a boar and advise all agencies in Georgia not to hamper me. My daughter will be there… Alas, I will put a bullet in anybody and then they can ask who has better authorities. I will make anybody’s parents explode, do not dare to do your job and receive bonuses for that. I will kill you all.” Detective Bakashvili published this Facebook status on January 8. He deleted it shortly, when Kakheti News Center expressed interest. After publishing the article the minister of internal affairs Giorgi Mgebrishvili only gave Bakur Bakashvili a reprimand. He retained his job.

Not only detectives are spotted poaching in protected area. On November 30, 2015 Kakheti News Center published photos depicting the district prosecutor of Lagodekhi, Kvareli and Gurjaani Levan Gvedashvilli and other prosecutors hunted bear included in the Red List. The source who provided us with photos assured us that prosecutors had killed three bears in Akhmeta, namely, Batsara-Babaneuri Reserve. The photos were taken while Levan Gvedashvili was prosecutor of Telavi office.

After publishing the material, general inspection of the head prosecution office started investigation, but Levan Gvedashvili remained in his office for two months, because he is friends with the head of general inspection – Bakur Abuladze.

Despite the fact that authenticity of the photos incriminating the prosecutor could not be denied, prosecutor Gvedashvili declared that he had never participated in illegal hunting on bear and could not confirm any link with the killing of animals depicted on the published photos, but he cares for the image of the prosecution office and applied for removal from office to the general prosecutor. He was removed from office based on own appeal. Despite numerous attempts, Kakheti News Center could not receive any explanation from the prosecution office what conclusion general inspection reached.

Brown bear is included in Red List of Georgia. In addition to sanctions against illegal hunting of brown bear, which is a criminal office and is punished with fine or social work up to two years or imprisonment up to three years with suspension of right to hold a position or office up to three years, according to the methodology of calculation of damage to the environment, the damage to the environment caused by killing a bear is 50 000 GEL. Ministry of environmental protection did not demand any reimbursement for the damage.

Kakheti News Center has evidence that other higher rank officials of the province prosecution office also hunt species included in Red List of Georgia.”