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Thousands of animal welfare campaigners took to the streets in various cities around the world last week asking governments to take necessary action to stop illegal wildlife trade which is increasingly threatening elephants and rhinos, among other animals, with extinction.
One of the biggest marches took place in London, United Kingdom (UK) where Malawi spoke out about its wildlife crisis at home, some 8000km away.
The march was one of the three high-profile events spanning three continents within the week that drew attention to Malawi’s commitment to fighting wildlife crime.
Last week, over 50 representatives attended a conference on wildlife and forest crimes organised by Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (Cepa) in conjunction with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF) Group and Lilongwe Wildlife Trust.
The same week in New York, United States of America (USA) President Peter Mutharika, also spoke out at a wildlife trafficking reception organised by the ICCF Group, which was also attended by two other African Presidents of Tanzania and Gabon-Jakaya Kiwete and Ali Bongo Ondimba respectively.
At the London march, Tourism Attaché at the Malawi High Commission Ian Musyani moved the marchers when he gave an account of how Malawi’s elephant populations has been halved since the 1980’s and the handful rhinos left in its national parks.
Musyani narrated how poachers were killing elephants for their horns and ivory tusks to make ornaments, trinkets and medicines that do not work.
“Our trade routes are being exploited by traffickers bringing ivory from neighbouring countries and this, in itself, is a threat not just to regional elephant populations but also to our own national security,” said Musyani in his speech emailed to The Nation.
He added: “Despite being a nation of limited resources facing many humanitarian challenges, we are stepping up to fight wildlife crime and shun the ivory trade.”
And in an email interview, Musyani said ivory trade was a global problem requiring a global response and called for more support from the international community.
“Despite our best efforts, this is a battle we cannot win alone. As I tell you of our own nation’s plight, I do speak for many other African countries facing the similar challenges,” he said.
During the Lilongwe conference co-chair of the Malawi Parliamentary Caucus (MPCC), Werani Chilenga, said the country was at a tipping point and “we must do whatever we can to stop this crisis in its tracks.”
Jonathan Vaughan, Director of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust said in an interview Malawi deserved recognition for the political will it had shown in just a week which included backing from the president.
He observed that Malawi has over the years made significant steps by pledging international partners to combat illegal wildlife trade through agreements like the London and Arusha Declarations, the Kasane Statement and the Elephant Protection Initiative.
In New York, Mutharika told the gathering in his keynote address that Malawi was a peaceful nation known for its friendly people and rich natural heritage and visitors flock from around the world to the Lake Malawi, mountains and national parks that teem with wildlife.
“This may not be the case in 20 years’ time, because by then two of Africa’s most iconic species – the elephant and rhino – may well only be seen in history books,” he said.
Currently, an Inter-Agency Committee on Combating Wildlife Crime has been set up in the country to encourage greater collaboration and a nationwide assessment on illegal wildlife trade has established the extent of the challenge and key priorities.
A number of anti-poaching and trafficking initiatives, such as airport sniffer dogs, have been introduced.
Unfortunately this year’s high profile setbacks, namely, the last minute postponement of the destruction of ivory stockpiles in May, and the weak sentencing handed out to traffickers in the high profile Mzuzu case, which involved 2.6 tonnes of illegal ivory, in August – are still hitting the headlines, and have to some extent undermined messages on the tough stance against wildlife crime but conservationists are however focusing on the positives.