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Stabbing wildlife stabbers

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Memories of Malawi’s failure to destroy a stockpile of ivory are still fresh. But this change of heart is not indicative of the overall mood here, as tackling wildlife crime, especially the illegal trade in ivory, appears to be high on the agenda.

Government and supporting NGOs are shouting the message that only elephants should wear ivory loud and clear.

The Chinese government is no longer tolerating species and habitat destruction. China has just imposed an import ban on ivory for one year and during his visit to the United States in September, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged that China looked forward to the end of the domestic commercial trade in ivory.

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Here in Malawi last month, the Chinese Embassy put its weight behind the ‘Stop Wildlife Crime’ campaign, the joint initiative between the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and Lilongwe Wildlife Trust (LWT) premised on showing their support in the fight against illicit ivory.

The plunging jumbo numbers are largely blamed on the thriving markets in the East, where criminals exploit the legal domestic markets to pedal their wares. The victims are largely Black Rhinoceros and Africa’s elephants, killed for their tusks and ivory horns.

However, there is another local market of consumers who are not part of these big criminal syndicates and are not necessarily aware that buying ivory or other wildlife products is a crime that could end them up in jail. Evidence for this consumer market is seen in the 36 seizures of between five and 100 kilogrammes at the country’s two international airports in the past five years.

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Chinese Ambassador to Malawi, Zhang Qingyang, said the purpose of November’s workshop, held under the theme, ‘Protect Wildlife: Awareness and Commitment’, was to join the fight against wildlife crime and raise awareness on protection of wildlife.

Among high profile personalities present were British High Commissioner to Malawi, Michael Nevin, Principal Secretary for Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Ben Botolo, and DNPW Director Brighton Kunchedwa plus over 70 Chinese business persons residing in Malawi.

“When it comes to the smuggling of wildlife, particularly ivory and its products in Africa, our nationals are always targeted as targets of blame. There are misconceptions. I don’t intend to deny the fact that ivory smuggling sometimes involves Chinese people. What I want to point out, however, is that the Chinese government has always opposed such practices,” Qingyang told the gathering.

Qingyang said China had, since October this year, imposed an import ban on ivory trade.

Taking his turn, Kumchedwa expressed worry that there are challenges being faced in conserving key iconic species such as elephants and Black Rhinoceros. These species are under immense pressure from traffickers.

“We are not sitting idle but, like today, we are forging partnerships with key stakeholders in the fight against wildlife crime. Collaboration with partners is crucial and the three main areas we are addressing are poaching, trafficking and demand for wildlife products,“ Kumchedwa said on the sidelines of the gathering in an interview.

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office joined the Stop Wildlife Crime campaign last year and funded the campaign to sensitise staff and travelers at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA). Airport Commandant, Donnie Chimtengo, proudly led staff from police, Immigration, and Malawi Revenue Authority to appreciate important messages that had been displayed prominently at the airport.

The loud and clear stop wildlife crime banners send home the message that the possession and trafficking of endangered species is illegal under local and international law, following trade restrictions instituted by the United Nations Convection on International Trade in Endangered Species in 1990.

LWT Programmes Director, Kate Moore, said that the messages would now be extended to include English, Chichewa and Chinese languages at airports and key meeting places, and all Chinese nationals arriving in Malawi now receive an SMS informing them about local laws. A number of other embassies and high commissions are also joining the campaign to sensitise their nationals on the impact and repercussions of wildlife crime.

In March 2015, German Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development (BMZ) and German Agency for International Co-operation (GIZ), via the Polifund, commissioned a technical assessment undertaken on behalf of the DNPW and in partnership with LWT entitled. The illegal Wildlife Trade Review in Malawi. The detailed study suggests that Malawi is being used as a major transit hub for illegal wildlife products, which are being easily imported, processed, packaged, sold and exported through its porous borders.

There could be no more stark examples of this than the high profile Mzuzu case in which two brothers, Patrick and Chauncy Kaunda, were handed a sentence of $5,500 in fines or the option of serving seven years in prison for their part in trafficking 2.6 tonnes of ivory – a ruling which is dwarfed by those in other African countries. Last year in South Africa a man received 10 years and a $392,000 fine for trafficking one tonne of ivory, and in Kenya, $233,000 for a single tusk weighing 3.4kg.

The assessment further cited an example of crime data collection in a case of ivory trafficking heard in the Senior Resident’s Magistrate’s Court in Lilongwe involving the discovery of 50 kilogrammes of ivory at the airport in September 2014.

The report faulted the current wildlife law enforcement system for not deterring crime networks that are using Malawi to profit from illegal wildlife trade.

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