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Mixed reactions on ivory case sentence

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There are mixed reactions following the recent High Court ruling on illegal ivory trafficking case involving Patrick and Chancy Kaunda.

The two brothers pleaded guilty to charges of illegal possession of specimen of endangered species under the National Parks and Wildlife A

It has taken over a year to finalise the case after Malawi Revenue Authority, Fast Anti-Smuggling Team intercepted a truck carrying 781 pieces of raw ivory concealed among bags of cement near Phwezi in Rumphi district while coming from neighbouring Tanzania.

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The court convicted both the accused persons and the matter came for sentencing before Justice Sunduzwayo Madise on July 28. They were fined K2.5 million each or in default serve a seven year jail term. The court further ordered that the 2.6 tonnes ivory be burnt within 20 days. This was the highest fine to have been passed for any wildlife or environment crime to date. However, conservationists and the public at large have expressed different opinions on the ruling.

“To say we were disappointed with the sentence would be an understatement.” said Werani Chilenga, Chairperson of both the Natural Resource Committee and the newly formed Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus (MPCC).

Chilenga compared the judgements of trafficking cases from other African countries from last year to illustrate the gap.

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“In Zambia, a man receives 5 years in prison for 12.5kg of ivory, in South Africa 10 years and a US$392,000 fine for 1 tonne, and in Kenya, US$233,000 for a single tusk weighing 3.4kg,” he said, adding: “Compare these to our recent sentencing and it is clear why Malawi is seen as a soft target for wildlife criminals.”

Chilenga’s sentiments were shared by Jonathan Vaughan, Director of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust.

“We welcome the tough talk on combating wildlife crime from all of the speakers. We are looking forward to working together with the MPCC to keep wildlife conservation issues on the agenda and to seeing the highest of political wills. What we have heard today further translate into collaboration and action,” Vaughan said at the launch.

Director of Parks and Wildlife, Brighton Kumchedwa, hoped that future sentences would be tough.

“The fine is the highest in the history of wildlife conservation. However, we are aware that this is not commensurate with the sentencing in other countries, and with this in mind we look forward to the imminent review of the Wildlife Act and associated legislation.”

On April 2 2015, President Mutharika postponed the torching of 4.8 metric tonnes of ivory seized through law enforcement plus that from natural deaths of elephants in protected areas across the country. The case in Mzuzu is believed to have influenced the eleventh hour decision to abandon the ivory burning at Parliament building in Lilongwe. Analysts have said that the bulk of the stockpile is poached ivory from range sites in neighbouring countries and that Malawi is simply being used as a conduit to get to the booming market of illegal ivory in south East Asia because of weak enforcement regulations.

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