Maputo — The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Thursday passed the second and final reading of a government bill on conservation areas which dramatically increases the penalties for poaching, particularly of endangered species, such as rhinoceros or elephants.
The bill proposes prison sentences of between eight and 12 years for people who kill, without a licence, any protected species, or who use banned fishing gear, such as explosives or toxic substances. The same penalty will apply to people who set forests or woodlands on fire (poachers often use fire to drive animals into the open).
Anybody using illegal firearms or snares, even if they do not catch protected species, can be sentenced to two years imprisonment.
In addition, those found guilty of the illegal exploitation, storage, transport or sale of protected species will be fined between 50 and 1,000 times the minimum monthly national wage in force in the public administration (at current exchange rates, that would be a fine of between 4,425 and 88,500 US dollars).
Violation of the provisions of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) could also result in a fine of up to a thousand times the national minimum wage. So ivory or rhino poachers, if caught, are looking at a prison term of 12 years and a fine of almost 90,000 dollars).
Those who degrade ecosystems through deforestation, fire “or any other voluntary act” will be obliged to restore the area to its previous condition.
If they cause the decline of any wildlife species, they will have to pay for restocking, in addition to any other penalties imposed by the courts.
Under the terms of the bill, each conservation area will be run by a Management Council, chaired by the government-appointed administrator of the area, and including representatives of local communities, private businesses and local state bodies.
The bill adds that the state “may establish partnerships with the private sector, local communities, national and foreign civil society organisations, through contracts, and with the private partner financing in whole or in part the administration of the conservation areas, thus creating synergies in favour of the preservation of biological diversity”.
Any public or private body authorised to exploit natural resources in a conservation area or its buffer zone, must compensate for its impacts “and ensure that there is no net loss of biodiversity”.
Current conservation areas cover about 25 per cent of Mozambique’s surface area. The bill divides them into “areas of total conservation”, and “conservation areas of sustainable use”.
The former term covers nature reserves and national parks. In these areas no hunting, agriculture, logging, mining or other acts that may damage biodiversity are permitted. The introduction of exotic species is also banned.
Cultural or natural monuments are also fully protected, and the bill guarantees the preservation of any rare, endemic or endangered species found there.
The “conservation areas of sustainable use” include special reserves, environmental protection areas, official hunting areas, community conservation areas, wildlife sanctuaries and private wild life farms.
Each of these has its own set of rules, but they are less stringent than for national parks. In some of them hunting is allowed under licence, and communities are allowed to exploit their resources for their own subsistence, and in a sustainable manner.
Any tourist or other activities authorised in conservation areas must pay fees to the state, fixed by the government, and a percentage of those fees, to be fixed by the government (but never less than 20 per cent) will be channelled to the local communities.
A new article, included at the suggestion of the parliamentary commission on agriculture, economic matters and the environment, promises state protection of any whistle-blowers who denounce poaching or other threats to the conservation areas.
The bill was passed unanimously and will become law after it has been promulgated by President Armando Guebuza and published in the official gazette, the “Boletim da Republica”.