Malawi steps up campaign against illegal wildlife trade
Malawi's wildlife experts have ganged up with the country’s security machinery in an effort to counter illegal wildlife trade that has seen the nation’s primed natural game heritage declining to alarming levels.
The crackdown is also aimed at blocking criminal syndicates from using the country as a transit route to export wildlife products such as ivory, rhino horns and hippo teeth from neighbouring countries and East Africa to Asia.
Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, General Manager, Jonathan Vaughan, says that the campaign follows the commemoration of the country’s first Wildlife Day in March which was in response to the World Wildlife Day launched by the United Nations.
He says the global event was proclaimed to highlight the value and contributions of wild animals and plants and encourage governments, NGOs and individuals to step up and helps protect wildlife, in particular to ensure that international trade does not threaten endangered and protected species.
“Due to the global attention on international wildlife trafficking, the campaign has special focus on elephants and the ivory trade,” he says.
Last Friday, Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), the Department of Civil Aviation, and the Malawi Police Service took the campaign to Kamuzu International Airport, the country’s main airport where they mounted banners around the transit lounges.
Acting Airport Commandant in the Department of Civil Aviation, Don Chimtengo, says the country‘s security apparatus has been previously working against illegal wildlife trafficking but needed such joint effort to combat the vice.
He says criminals have in the past been caught through x-ray and physical searches while attempting to hide the items in curios and other luggage.
The airport security head revealed that most culprits have been caught on Ethiopian Airlines and Kenyan Airways because these are flights with direct routes to Asia.
Vaughan says, as the Malawian member of the Species Survival Network, his organisation is committed to combating the illegal wildlife trade through inspiring people about the wonder of wildlife and the importance of protecting Malawi's natural heritage.
He says Lilongwe Wildlife Trust as the country's leading wildlife welfare and conservation charity is approaching government agencies, NGOs, private companies and the media to join the campaign.
William Mgoola, DNPW, Assistant Director, says Malawi’s wildlife is faced with a big threat from poachers while its boarders are being used as an easy route to traffic illegal game products.
He revealed that last year 781 pieces of whole ivory tusks were seized from a truck from Tanzania bound for the international airport in Lilongwe while a number of Chinese nationals were arrested at the airport for ivory smuggling.
Mgoola cited Kasungu National Park which was recently home to over 2 000 elephants but have currently been reduced to less than 200 remain due to poaching.
It is reported that across Africa, an elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its ivory tusks and at this rate none will be left roaming wild by 2025.
He urges the country’s citizens to protect wildlife considering that the nation has some of Africa's most stunning natural heritage which is being devastated by escalating commercial poaching and harvesting.
“The increasing criminal activity, fuelled by the insatiable demand of the Asian market, has to be put to a stop,” he says pointing out that the campaign will create awareness on the impact of the ivory trade on people and wildlife.
Titled 'Stop Wildlife Crime – Protect Malawi's Wildlife', the campaign will cover Malawi’s role in CITES, law enforcement, human-wildlife conflict and community engagement.
“We intend to strike a balance between inspiring people about Malawi's amazing wildlife, and the devastating effects of the illegal wildlife trade and what wildlife crime is all about,” says the director.
The crusade will target the general public, potential or existing wildlife criminals and authorities such as the judiciary, police, immigration, Parks scouts.
It is designed to run to December reaching out to communities, key transit routes such as airports, border posts, major cities (Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu) and around national parks and wildlife reserves where wildlife needs protecting, especially those that support iconic wildlife species such as elephants, rhinos, and lions.
A wildlife emergency hotline has been set up to report any illegal activity and any information received will be treated in the strictest of confidence.
Stakeholders include the Ministry of Tourism, Department of National Parks and Wildlife, Department of Civil Aviation, Department of Immigration, Wildlife Action Group, African Parks, Malawi Police Service, Interpol, Born Free Foundation, and the judiciary.