Government will today burn four tonnes of ivory to demonstrate its commitment to the fight against wildlife crime. ALBERT SHARRA explores how this deters wildlife crime.
Malawi was today [2 April] expected to burn ivory is worth $7.5 million (about K3.4 billion). Although the event was postponed at the eleventh hour because some 2.6 tonnes of ivory is still in the system and its cases unsolved, the burning of ivory is a strong statement against wildlife crime, considering that regardless of the country’s struggling economy, government is going ahead with the activity.
Reports of serious wildlife crime in the country are rife. The Lilongwe Wildlife Trust has warned that if screws are left loose as they are in the fight against wildlife crime, Malawi will lose all its elephants, whose population is currently a little over 1 000, to illegal ivory traders from within and outside the country.
Jonathan Vaughan, director of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust says the four tonnes of ivory to be burned today are equivalent to 500 elephants, and they are from both within and outside the country.
Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network that looks at the trade in animals and plants globally, reveals that elephants are seriously being poached in Africa. For instance, it says 25 000 African elephants were killed in 2011, while 22 000 were killed in 2012 and just over 20 000 in 2013.
In Malawi, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife in the Ministry of Information , Tourism and Culture says the rate at which some protected animal species are being depleted through poaching and other illegal means has devalued most protected areas to the point that they are unable to attract significant tourism.
The department says the population of elephants has decreased from around 4 000 to less than 2 000, adding that Kasungu National Park alone used to be home to over 2 000 elephants in the 1980s, but the numbers have dwindled to 50 due to poaching.
Government further says between 2011 and 2014, over 23 arrests were made at Kamuzu International Airport during which 69 pieces of ivory were confiscated. In May 2013, the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) intercepted 781 pieces of ivory (2.6 tonnes) suspected to have originated from Tanzania.
As Malawi joins the world in commemorating World Wildlife Day today under the theme ‘Time to Get Serious with Wildlife’ by burning ivory, questions are being asked as to how the burning will deter wildlife crime.
Kenya recently burned ivory worth $16 million and Ethiopia has also burned ivory worth $11.9 million.
Minister of Information Tourism and Culture Kondwani Nankhumwa says the burning of the ivory demonstrates that trading ivory is against the law.
Brighton Kumchedwa, director of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, says the action meets demands of this year’s World Wildlife Day theme.
“One way of getting serious with wildlife is putting beyond reach stockpiles of ivory to ensure that those who are involved in illegal ivory trade have no chance at all. What is happening is that warehouses which contain these stockpile of ivory are under constant threat of break in. This has been a common occurrence in other countries,” Kumchedwa says.
He adds that currently there is a worldwide ban on international trade of ivory.
“The ban is enforced by the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) which came into force in 1989 and which Malawi ratified. Burning will, therefore, mark a milestone for Malawi as it will demonstrate to the world its commitment towards eradicating the wildlife crime,” explains Kumchedwa.
He says wildlife crime is the fourth largest transnational crime in the world, worth an estimated $17 billion annually.
On why government could not sell the ivory and support its struggling economy, Kumchedwa says there is no market across the globe for ivory.
“There was a time when people were pressing for a waiver, but that was removed. Even domestically, one cannot sell ivory. It is a banned trade,” he insists.
But why is wildlife crime becoming a serious problem?
Kumchedwa says the explosion of wildlife crime across Africa is driven by increasing consumer demand in China and south-east Asia for products made from ivory, rhino horn and other animal body parts.
Furthermore, he says there are weak wildlife legislations which have very low fines and penalties.
“Borders are too porous and there is inadequate operational resources and equipment for law enforcement,” he says.
The Department of Wildlife and Parks says there is need to strengthen interagency collaboration through the existing interagency committee on combating wildlife crime and enforcement of laws relevant to conservation and management such as reviewing the wildlife legislation while improving and developing protected area eco-tourism and management infrastructure.
And these, according to the department, should be supported by awareness and sensitisation campaigns on wildlife crime.