Lilongwe – Poaching is not only an animal welfare issue but also a conservation problem and like many other African countries, Malawi is one of the victims of wildlife crisis. Poaching leaves animals maimed, orphaned and disturbs social hierarchy in behavioural ecology.
This has a bearing in conservation and the interconnected web of life and impacts on tourism and other related industries which generate revenue for the country.
A recent announcement by the Elephant Protection Initiative confirmed Malawi’s completion of its ivory inventory and its intention to burn the ivory stockpiles. This declaration followed the launch of the Malawi’s National Elephant Action Plan which is being led by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) with technical support from Stop Ivory, Wildlife Conservation Society, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Lilongwe Wildlife Trust.
Last February Malawi joined scores of other countries in a declaration to crack down on wildlife crime and since then, significant progress has been made.
Director of National Parks and Wildlife, Brighton Kumchedwa said government was taking more action in order to curb wildlife crime.
“We are reviewing the Parks and Wildlife Act which will see both the custodial sentence as well as fines for the perpetrators going up,” said Kumchedwa.
Kumchedwa cited for example, that poaching of wildlife species and elephants in particular has brought Kasungu National Park’s population down from 2000 in the 1980’s to an estimated 58, according to the Elephant Database- obviously devastating statistics from a conservation perspective.
Local initiatives have included the launch of a ‘stop wildlife crime’ public awareness campaign, the establishment of an Inter-agency Committee to Combat Wildlife Crime (IACCWC), a moratorium on domestic ivory trade, a review of the national wildlife policy and wildlife legislation and an illegal wildlife trade assessment in accordance with the United Nations Office on Drugs and crime toolkit on combating wildlife and forest crime.
In the wake of public pressure as well as local and international synergies among enforcement institutions, even the judicial system is also treating wildlife offences as serious crimes in recent times. This has resulted in culprits being meted fines of high record amounting to the tune of MK1million and in default offenders have no choice but sent to jail to serve sentences.
However, Regional Prosecutions Officer for the centre, Levison Mangani said, “There is need for penalties in the Wildlife Act to be revised accordingly so that they are deterrent enough for those perpetuating wildlife related offences.”
He said though there had been commendable strides in as far as wildlife crime prosecution is concerned, the Parks and Wildlife Act needs to be amended so that the criminals are fined more than they can afford, and hence making them serve the maximum jail sentence which is now on six years.
“We are advocating for stiffer punishments and immediate custodial sentences especially to ivory traffickers because the Act says such offenders are supposed to pay a K1million fine in default six years, which is very little compared to the money they get after illegally selling the ivory,” said Mangani.
One example is the recent case between Dickson Mzinda versus the State for instance; the accused was convicted in all three counts of hunting protected species contrary to section. 110(a) of National Parks and Wildlife Act that of possession of an Antic Firearm without permit contrary to s. 12(1) as read with section. 12(2) of the Firearms Act. He was further convicted with the offence of possession of ammunition without permit contrary to section. 12(1) as read with section. 12(2) of the Firearms Act.
In his ruling Lilongwe Senior Resident Magistrate Paul Chiotcha said the court was of the opinion that the sentence must befit the crime and the convict, be fair to society but also have a face of mercy towards the offender should be a custodial one, he said while passing judgment.
“I am convinced that he is a person who cannot be trusted with his liberty. If released its clear he will continue to commit these kinds of offences. I sentence him to 4 years Imprisonment with Hard Labour (IHL) on the first count, 5months IHL on the second count and 5 months IHL on the third count. All these to run concurrently from the date of his arrest.” said Chiotcha whose ruling was welcomed by most conservationists that attended the trial.
Lilongwe Wildlife Centre Manager, Jonathan Vaughan said the new Elephant National Plan which is being enforced by the Germany Development Agency will help reduce the killing and trading of wildlife.
He said his organisation will continue sensitizing the public on the effects of the malpractice through workshops and capacity building activities for government officers as well as stakeholders.
World Wildlife Day was celebrated around the globe on 3rd March, but due to the clash with Martyrs Day celebrations in Malawi it has been postponed until 18thMarch.
Kenya commemorated World Wildlife Day with a symbolic torching of 15 tonnes of ivory and a pledge to destroy the rest of the country’s stockpiles by the end of the year. In a speech referring to Kenya’s continued policy to put ivory beyond economic use, President Uhuru Kenyatta said, “In order to underline our determination to eradicate poaching, my government shall burn the rest of the stockpile within this year.”
Will Malawi be next? This is the question that many Malawians have been asking and the world is watching too. Over 7000 signatures have been collected in support of Malawi’s crackdown on the ivory trade.
In the meantime, Malawians eagerly await the news of the government’s next steps in the fight against wildlife crime, which is hoped will set a precedent for the entire nation.