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Penalties not punitive for poachers

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Lesser penalties meted on poachers by the country’s justice system puts the country on a risk of losing some animal species like kudus in Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve in Rumphi.

Kudus are heavily poached in the reserve and the malpractice is continuing despite several arrests and convictions.

Located on a 400 square kilometre marsh plane along the Zambian border, game rangers in the month of June alone arrested four poachers in possession of about 90 kilogrammes of kudu meat.

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However, the game ranger’s work might prove useless due to lesser penalties that are meted on the criminals.

This comes on the back drop of the newly launched Illegal Wildlife Review Report (IWRR) on May 13 2015, aimed at aiding government to develop its Illegal Wildlife Trade Action Plan in the fight against wildlife crimes.

Vwaza Mash World Life Reserve Manager, Leonard Moyo, said, “two weeks ago we arrested two suspects and were taken to court. They were fined K4, 500 and to us this is disappointing. Poachers are not getting deterrent penalties a situation that is fuelling poaching and endangering the existence of our animals.”

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IWRR acknowledges the high risk-reward ratio for wildlife and the meager fines meted on those breaking the law.

“To date no-one has ever been imprisoned for trading in wildlife products and the average penalty for trafficking ivory is just US$40. Malawi is also listed as 110th most corrupt nation out of 175 in the Corruptions Perceptions Index, and corruption is worsening. This means it is easier for criminals to evade justice,” reads the report.

Ironically, Moyo also bemoans the presence of an organisation called Poachers Association which bails out poachers from the courts.

“They (association members) hang around the court area during the hearing and once the fines are announced, they contribute money to rescue their friend,” said Moyo.

“Perhaps things would improve if the punishments are equated to the price on the live animals on the international market. Our officers’ lives are always in danger and it is disheartening to learn that these poachers are made to pay lesser fines.”

A fully grown male kudu, according to www.britannica. com, weighs between 257 kg and 315 kg while a female weighs on average 170 kg and cost almost US$5, 000 on the international market.

Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi, secretariat director, Gervaz Thamala, says the courts mete out light sentences on poachers due to lack of records of previous crimes.

“Courts have to be given enough evidence to give proper punishments. It’s not only that the courts are in the wrong but sometimes the rangers lack evidence. Some poachers are habitual offenders and the courts need to be told that information,” Thamala said.

He also asked the concerned authorities to enlighten the magistrates for them to appreciate what game rangers go through to arrest poachers.

Judiciary spokesperson, Mlenga Mvula, said the courts base their fines on the country’s Penal Code.

“People have to first understand laws governing wildlife. We do not just come up with sentences but we give sentences basing on the evidence and the nature of the case,” said Mvula.

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