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Poachers turned conservationists

By Lusayo Singogo:

FIGHTING WILDLIFE CRIMES —(From left to right) Milanzi, Mfune and Chihana

Wildlife is a natural heritage which, when properly conserved, plays a crucial role in contributing to a countries’ socio-economic development through tourism.

The Malawi Government and its partners are making progress in protecting the country’s heritage as there has been at least 50 percent reduction in wildlife poaching and illegal trafficking since 2016.

This improvement has put the country on the world map as far as wildlife conservation is concerned.

If this development is sustained, Malawi may continue to regain most of its wildlife that it lost between the 1990s and 2013 when poaching reached alarming levels.

Department of National Parks and Wildlife Director, Brighton Kumchedwa, attributes the improvement to the number of initiatives the country introduced such as the amendment of the National Parks and Wildlife Act to mete out punishments of up to 30 years imprisonment to convicted offenders.

Again, the amended law provides for a revenue-sharing scheme where communities around the protected areas benefit directly from the facilities’ revenue collection.

“The Wildlife Policy of 2000, revised in 2018, promotes stakeholder participation in the management of wildlife. Through a fund order under a subsidiary law of 2013, communities are entitled to a 25 percent share of the revenue generated at a protected area level,” Kumchedwa explains.

He says in line with the policy, community members are mobilised into associations in order to access the funds which they can later use in curbing poaching.

So far, the revenue-sharing scheme is being implemented in Lengwe and Nyika national parks. It is yet to be executed in Kasungu National Park where preparations are at an advanced stage.

An executive member of the Nyika-Vwaza Association in Rumphi District Pius Mfune says the association has 104 natural resources committees (NRCs) in 30 Zones.

He says the committee members raise awareness to community members surrounding.

Nyika National Park about dangers of wildlife poaching.

“Apart from the sensitisation campaigns, the association also compensates poachers who surrender guns or snares to refrain from the illegal acts and find other means of earning a living,” Mfune says.

In fact, among the members of NRCs are reformed former convicts who found themselves in prison over wildlife crimes, including poaching.

“The association further reaches out to former wildlife convicts and teaches them some proper means of sourcing money for their families.

“Among the benefits, the association provides the former convicts with livestock such as goats for them to begin a new life after prison,” Mfune says.

One such beneficiary, Sinya Chihana, 50, from Fundichombo Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chikulamayembe says his livelihood has improved ever since the association reached out to him.

“I was sentenced to two years imprisonment in 2007 for poaching. Initially, I knew that poaching is illegal but I continued to do it because of poverty.

“However, after testing prison life which ranged from poor living conditions to severe beatings, I have vowed to never go back to my old ways,” says Chihana, who is now a member of Njakwa NRC.

He says his livelihood has improved because of the money and livestock that the association provided to him as start-up capital.

Another former convict Steven Milanzi, 39, from Mhuju Village in the area of T/A Mwahenga says he is actively involved in sensitisation campaigns and retrieving of guns and snares from poachers.

“I was sentenced to two years imprisonment from 2017 to 2019 for poaching. I was poaching because I thought it has an easy way of making money to meet my family’s needs,” Milanzi says.

He says he is now reformed in that he helps in disseminating messages against poaching and other wildlife crimes.

“Apart from this, I secretly collect snares and guns from poachers. I have managed to collect four guns and 16 snares,” Milanzi says.

Reformed Milanzi commends the government and its partners such as Lilongwe Wildlife Trust for their efforts in conserving the country’s wildlife.

“It is the duty of everyone to preach against poaching and the importance of conserving wildlife. The more we spread the word, the greater the chances for these beautiful natural treasures to continue gracing our planet,” Milanzi says. — Mana

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