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Leveraging wildlife tourism

CONVERTED — Communities that surround Majete Wildlife Reserve have ventured into jewelry business

By Watipaso Mzungu:

WILDLIFE — Impalas in Liwonde National Park

In recent years, wildlife tourism has proven to be powerful tool countries can leverage to grow and diversify their economies while protecting their biodiversity and meeting several Sustainable Development Goals.

It is also a way to engage tourists in wildlife conservation and inject money into local communities living closest to wildlife

In fact, the 2019 United Nations World Tourism Organisation research released on the occasion of World Wildlife Day on March 3 says wildlife watching tourism is one of the most important tourism segments in Africa.

But, as Director of Department of National Parks and Wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa emphasises, poaching and illicit trade in wildlife pose a serious threat to the future of Malawi’s tourism sector, thereby affecting the socio-economic development of the country.

Kumchedwa says wildlife trafficking is unfortunately estimated to be among the most lucrative illegal trades.

“It is a multifaceted global threat that erodes biodiversity, strips countries of their national assets and local communities of income-earning possibilities from tourism and sustainable use while its revenue sometimes is used to fuel corruption and conflict,” he explains.

To meet the challenges posed by wildlife trafficking, stronger institutions and law enforcement are needed, says United Nations Development Programme.

Equally important is to take action to simultaneously reduce poverty through expanded livelihood opportunities and the involvement of indigenous and local communities in decision making as well as general awareness raising.

Department of National Parks and Wildlife and Africa Parks Limited realise the importance of employing an integrated approach to combat illegal trade in wildlife and forest products in its protected areas.

Hence, they have recently adopted the community-based ecotourism approach to address the well-being of community and surrounding environment.

The two institutions are supporting communities surrounding protected forest and game reserves to diversify rural livelihoods, manage human-wildlife conflict, strengthen protected area management, share the benefits from sustainable wildlife management with local communities and strengthen site-based and national enforcement responses.

These efforts enabled Malawi to earn itself a global leader on tackling wildlife crime at the 18th meeting of the Conference of Parties of the global Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

Cites is an international agreement between governments, which aims to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

Recently, Cites secretariat recommended that Malawi should exit from National Ivory Action Plan (Naip) process, in recognition of the fact that it has made significant progress in tackling the illegal trade in ivory.

Niap are practical tools to help countries that are signed up to the convention (known as ‘parties’) combat the illegal trade in ivory.

Each plan outlines the measures that a Cites Party must deliver, including legislative, enforcement and public awareness actions along with specified timeframe and milestones for implementation.

Countries are identified as Category A, B or C parties, according to how affected they are by the ivory trade (with Category A identifying those countries ‘most affected’).

Malawi was requested to develop a Niap in 2017, following the Elephant Trade Information System report which was submitted to Cites in 2016.

The report categorised Malawi as A party. Earlier in 2019, Malawi submitted its latest progress report to Cites secretariat, advising that 84 percent of the activities in its Niap had been completed and the remaining activities are substantially achieved/on track.

This fulfils the Cites’ requirements that over 80 percent of activities be completed before a country can request to exit the Niap process.

Cites secretariat has recommended to the Cites Standing Committee that Malawi should exit the Niap process.

Official confirmation of this recommendation was made at the conference.

Kumchedwa, who led the Malawi delegation to the conference, which took place in Geneva, Switzerland, August 17-28 2019, said this means that Malawi’s wildlife legislation is meeting the standards of Category 1, which means that it is among the strongest in the world.

“I am very delighted that Cites had recognised that Malawi now has one of the strongest legislative frameworks in the world for tackling illegal wildlife trade. These milestones are testament to government’s dedication to stamping out wildlife crime and making conservation a national priority,” he narrates.

At the same conference, Malawi successfully proposed to have Mulanje cedar (Widdringtonia whytei) and mukula (Pterocarpus tinctorius or African padauk) included on the list of species protected by the convention.

Mulanje cedar species is considered to be critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species after years of overexploitation from unsustainable and illegal logging combined with human-induced changes to the fire regime, invasive competing tree species, aphid infestation and low rates of regeneration or recruitment.

As of 2018, population surveys did not find a single standing, reproductively mature tree on Mulanje Mountain. Small plantation areas have been established in other areas of Malawi and a major effort is underway to replant the cedar on Mount Mulanje but, until such efforts have resulted in the renewal and stabilisation of the population, any trade, international or national, in its timber should be considered a threat to the survival of the species.

On the other hand, mkula is a rosewood species native to a range of habitats across east and southern Africa.

The past few years have seen a dramatic increase in harvest and export from several countries, both legal and illegal, following a by-now familiar pattern directly linked to Asian demand.

Available information indicates that the illegal and unsustainable exploitation of Pterocarpus tinctorius has already had severe reported impacts on its wild populations in various range states.

Unless rapidly checked, the growing unsustainable and illegal exploitation of Pterocarpus tinctorius for international trade is likely to lead the commercial extinction of the species in various range states.

Kumchedwa stresses that this signifies that Malawi has still a long way to completely stamp out wildlife crime in spite of the accolade conferred on the country.

He says poaching and trafficking continue to plague our country, hence the need for authorities to keep waging war against wildlife crime.

“We will not stop until all wildlife criminals face the full weight of the law,” he stresses.

Since its establishment in 2009, Lilongwe Wildlife Trust (LWT) has dedicated its work towards protecting Malawi’s biodiversity for the benefit of its people and wildlife.

And in collaboration with local and international partners, LWT responds to urgent conservation challenges as well as drive long-term social and institutional change across a number of areas including illegal wildlife trade, deforestation and plastics pollution.

Recently, the Government of Malawi appointed the trust to administer a number of national wildlife management, justice and advocacy initiatives and they are also a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Malawi representative for the Species Survival Network and the Secretariat for the Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus.

LWT Chief Executive Officer Jonny Vaughan says his organisation feels privileged to support government in protecting its wild animals and wild habitats in recent years.

“We applaud its dedication to this critical issue and remain committed to our partnership in the coming years,” Vaughan says.

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