Poachers beware! That is a strong message coming from Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve to anyone who dares to threaten wildlife in any form.
Since African Parks took over management of the reserve from Malawi government three years ago, there has been a tremendous improvement in a clampdown on wildlife crime, one of the most violent acts against nature dogging most protected areas around the world.
In the past two years, the reserve has managed to reduce crime rate by 75 percent as evidenced by contrasting numbers of arrests made.
A 2017 progress report released by African Parks states that few arrests were made last year compared to the previous year.
“Last year, 22 poachers were arrested compared to 86 arrested in 2016,” reads the report.
The decrease is widely seen and interpreted as a reduction in the number of people encroaching on the reserve.
Another good news is the inching up of figures in convictions related to wildlife crime.
Last year, the reserve managed to secure a conviction rate of 95 percent from all the cases it took to the court of law.
“Out of the 22 poachers arrested last year, 21 were convicted compared to only 27 out of the 86 arrested in 2016,” the report further states.
The conviction rate for 2016 was as below as 31 percent.
Looking at the variation of figures from 2016 to last year, this is, by far, one of the greatest strides made in combating wildlife crime.
A number of factors claim a stake in this success. Among these include capacity building for game rangers and law enforcement agencies and acquisition of proper equipment for patrols, according to Sam Kamoto, Parks Manager for the reserve.
“We have recruited and trained new game rangers. We also procured a chopper that has helped us increase our patrol coverage to include some areas that were hard-to-reach on foot or when using a car,” says Kamoto.
Furthermore, African Parks has conducted workshops with Department of National Parks and Wildlife, judiciary and police staff in Nkhotakota to discuss various law-enforcement issues.
Other elements include the increased man hours and coverage area for patrols. The number of animals poached in the reserve has also decreased from 26 in 2016 to 10 animals in 2017.
As a wildlife reserve, the area has to protect all living things beyond animals to include indigenous plants such as timber and non-timber products.
Community Extension Manager for the reserve Obedi Mkandawire says they have also intensified on curbing illegal logging that is fuelled by charcoal production.
Last year alone, the reserve confiscated 282 bags of charcoal against 91 in 2016, according to Mkandawire.
There is no doubt that wildlife and forest crime is receiving formidable and coordinated response in Malawi. Law enforcement has improved.
In the past, wildlife authorities in government and non-governmental organisations have always worked hard to bring perpetrators of wildlife crime to justice.
But a weak legal framework undermined those efforts by meting out lenient penalties that did not help matters in fighting this crime.
In December 2016, Malawi Parliament passed a new law that now offers renewed hope.
The amended National Parks and Wildlife Act gives power to the courts to hand out a maximum 30-year custodial sentence to serious wildlife criminals with no option of a fine.
Already, 114 wildlife crime convictions have been recorded last year alone under this new law.
The longest prison time so far given to a convict for wildlife crime is an 18-year sentence handed out by the Liwonde Magistrate’s Court to a poacher of a black rhinoceros in Liwonde National Park.
Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve has had a fair share of success in long-term sentences for some of the cases it has taken to court.
The most notable one came in November last year when Nkhotakota Magistrate’s Court convicted and sentenced two people, Faliki Simeon and Thomson Zindo, to 13 years imprisonment each for killing an elephant in the reserve.
The laws are now strong and merciless. Wildlife experts are happy. It is bad news for perpetrators of wildlife crime.
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