Eradicating poaching at Kasungu National Park
By Deogratias Mmana
Tyson Mwandira, 61, once became the most wanted man by game rangers. He eventually found himself behind bars in Lundazi, Zambia.
He was a notorious poacher who wreaked havoc in Kasungu National Park from 1985 to 1987. He extended his poaching to Zambia since Kasungu National Park is connected to Lukusuzi and Luambe national parks.
He claims that he did not have a serious reason for poaching. It was a transferred skill from his father. “I inherited the poaching from parents and I took advantage of weak laws at that time,” said Mwandira who used a muzzle-loading rifle to kill animals in Kasungu National Park.
“We went poaching every day despite having lots of wild meat at home. I think we were just interested in destroying wildlife,” said Mwandira, who added that the animals he targeted included bushbucks, grysbok and duikers.
Mwandira confesses that it was not rosy all the time.
“I would spend sleepless nights because I knew my name was on the wanted list of the game rangers. I recall to have been beaten on a number of occasions and fearing for my life; I decided to stop poaching,” said Mwandira in an interview at Lifupa Lodge deep inside Kasungu National Park.
He is now leading Chifwefwe Beekeeping Club and has become a great ambassador for the protection of wildlife in Kasungu National Park.
Beekeeping is one of the interventions under a five-year project called Combating Wildlife Crime implemented by the International Fund Animal Welfare (Ifaw).
“As a changed man, I now make sure that villagers do not poach animals in the park. With my team, we keep an eye on the villagers to ensure that no one goes into the park to kill animals. If one dares and is caught, we take him to relevant authorities for action,” Mwandira says.
Chifwefwe is one of the seven beekeeping clubs that harvest honey from the park instead of killing animals. Each club is composed of 10 members. Other socio-economic activities done by the villagers include tailoring and shop keeping. They are all operating under Ifaw.
The project, running from 2017 to 2022 to the tune of $8 million, is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) to project elephant populations along the Malawi and Zambia border landscape.Although the initiative targets elephant species, the enhanced enforcement capacity developed through this activity also benefits numerous other species targeted in the landscape and caught up in illegal trade.
The project aims to decrease elephant poaching rates to levels that will allow for the sustainability of the population by the fourth year of the activity.
The project is expected to improve the capacity of law enforcement officers to identify, prosecute, and disrupt illegal trafficking routes operating across the Malawi-Zambia landscape by next year.
Stakeholders under the project include agencies like the police, the courts and government bodies in the region to improve cooperation and coordination across the boundaries as well as building innovative deterrent approaches to poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.
According to Ifaw Chief of Party Patricio Ndadzela, innovative deterrent approaches include having local community agents and community enforcement networks, which both act as a deterrent for poachers and alert official Rapid Response Units, who are armed where there is poaching in the parks.
Ndadzela says wildlife enforcement agencies tasked with managing protected areas and disrupting trafficking routes in the wider region are also provided with technical and logistical support.
And further, communities receive education and training programmes in law enforcement and wildlife management so that they can spot report wildlife crime activities.Ndadzela says the project, in its fourth year, has achieved about 85 percent of its targets.
“Wildlife crime has reduced; stiff fines are given to poachers; communities are economically empowered through the construction of the wire fence and through beekeeping clubs and elephant population has stabilised,” he said.
“Community encroachment has reduced because of the wire fence under construction and elephant population has stabilised,” he said.
A 40 kilometre (km) wire fence is under construction around the park and so far 27km has been constructed. The remaining 13km is expected to be done by next year June.
Group Village Head Linyangwa commends the cordial relationship between the National Parks and Wildlife and the communities. He says there is no people-animal conflict at Kasungu National Park because of the fence and involvement of the communities in activities that support them economically.
“People get into the park to get firewood and not to kill animals,” said Linyangwa adding: “we are happy to take part in the protection of animals.”
Director of Parks and Wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa says the conflict between people and animals at Kasungu National Park is now history.
“There is sharing of revenue through livestock pass on programme and other agricultural activities. The communities are also involved in the construction of the fence at Kasungu National Park,” Kumchedwa said.
When he visited the park recently, US Chargé d’Affaires Jeremey Neitzke was impressed to see that the communities were a changed people.
“Thank you for your work and changed ways. Malawi and US are interested in promoting the environment and providing economic empowerment,” said Neitzke.
According to Ifaw, the Malawi-Zambia landscape has emerged as a major ivory transit due to its geographic location, Ivory moves from northern Mozambique, south eastern Tanzania and Zambia through to Malawi where it is illegally processed for consumer markets in Southeast Asia and China.
Ifaw says 76 percent of African elephants live in habitats that cross national borders. In these areas, poachers, can kill elephants for their tusks ad then avoid law enforcement by escaping from one country to another.