Brian Ligomeka, Daily Times 

Date Published
As government keeps changing its tune on its failure to burn 4.1 tonnes stockpile of ivory, environmental conservation groups want immediate destruction of the illegal wildlife trophies.

Government’s first excuse on 4.1 tonnes elephant tusks valued at K5 billion was that it wanted to burn them together with 2.6 tonnes of ivory which was in Mzuzu.

 Whilst the ivory in Mzuzu was burnt last month, the new excuse that the government is peddling on the 4.1 tonnes is that it wants debate on the matter.  

A consortium of environmental organisations is not amused with the government excuses and has since issued a statement in which it argues that Malawi needs to set alight all ‘illegal ivory’ it seized from criminals and smugglers.

“Malawi’s ivory has no legal economic value.  Destruction of all ivory stockpiles is very important as it is part of a wider global conservation strategy to eliminate demand of ivory and put value on living elephants,” says the statement signed by the consortium’s spokesperson, Reinford Mwangonde.

According to Mwangonde, after Kenya has led the way in torching over 105 tonnes of ivory, time is ripe for Malawi to follow suit by burning its own wildlife trophies.

He says it was not enough for Malawi to burn only 2.6 tonnes of elephant tusks in Mzuzu following a court order, when there is another stockpile of 4.1 tonnes elsewhere.

Malawi is draining its scarce resources guarding valueless tainted ivory which cannot be sold, argues Mwangonde.

With illegal wildlife trade being the fourth largest transnational crime in the world, Mwangone warns that one day government may be embarrassed if criminal gangs would infiltrate the system and manage to steal the ivory which could be sold on the black market. “We should realise that hwilst Malawi can’t sell its ivory, criminals could because they have no respect for the law and are prepared to partake in organised crime and risk custodial sentences to profit from the illicit ivory markets”, he observes.  

Government wanted to destroy the 4.1 tonnes of ivory in its stockpiles in March last year but the move was postponed last minute with an announcement that the destruction would include a further 2/6 tonnes confiscated from traffickers in Mzuzu in 2013.  

Strangely, ivory stockpile in Mzuzu was destroyed last month while the 4.1 tonnes lot which was supposed to be destroyed in Lilongwe has not yet been set on fire and there is no timeframe on the same. Asked why there is a delay in ivory destruction, Director of Parks and Wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa said in an interview yesterday that government is carefully monitoring the debate on the issue.  “Debate has ensured on the matter.  The mere fact that some Malawians are arguing that the ivory should not be burnt means there is some misunderstanding and lack of appreciation on the strategy.  There is need for adequate civic education so that when ivory is being burnt, Malawians appreciate the strong message we are sending,” he said.

According to Kumchedwa, Malawians need to appreciate that the ivory government is holding is of no value because international law outlaws the trading of wildlife products. “The burning of ivory makes a lot of sense if many people appreciate it cannot be sold anywhere because there is a law that bars the trading of ivory”, he said. 

Kumchedwa says while some are only focusing on the strategy of burning ivory, government is executing other strategies including reviewing Parks and Wildlife legislation so that stiff punishments are meted to offenders.

Many conservationists back ivory destruction as a strategy to fight wildlife crimes.  So far 20 countries have destroyed their stockpiles.Mozambique, Gabon, Chad, Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Malaysia, USA and China are among countries that have destroyed their stockpiles, with Kenya which last week torched 105 tonnes being the latest nation.