Amid suggestions that the confiscated ivory be sold, director of parks and wildlife, BRIGHTON KUMCHEDWA, tells our reporter BONIFACE PHIRI that government has not such intentions.
Why does government want to burn K7 billion worth of ivory?
Let me state firmly that the figure being mentioned is not correct and not being made in the right context. Suffice to say, the ivory in question can’t be sold because it is contraband and you don’t sell contraband items. Remember there is a legal ban by the UN enforced in 1989. The misconception here is that people are translating the burning of the ivory into burning billions of kwachas which, admittedly, the country badly needs due to the prevailing economic challenges. In fact, if there was a chance to sell ivory, Malawi would have been one of the countries to do so. But the element of burning is simply to get the ivory out of smugglers hands and this is coming from the realisation that while the poachers are targeting live elephants, they also have their eyes on these already seized ivory tusks to satisfy the lucrative market for ivory out there.
Where are you keeping the ivory and how safe are they?
I can’t disclose where we are keeping the confiscated ivory because it’s a security issue but just know that they are around and very safe and this includes the two tonnes awaiting court cases.
This sudden talk of confiscated ivory, surely shows that elephants are not safe and there’s a security lapse in game reserves and parks?
Indeed there is a lot of ivory going through the country, but we are doing a lot to correct and normalise issues of security. We are currently training game rangers and equipping them with sophisticated skills so that they deal with poachers quite well and at the same time we are increasing the number of rangers. I should also mention that we are concessioning two more parks so that they are privately managed as it is with Majete game reserve and this is at an advanced stage. Majete is highly secured as compared to government-run parks like Liwonde, Kasungu and Vwaza. As a nation we are a source as well as a transit state and having this in mind we have intensified sector collaboration with the police and the Judiciary so that when a poacher is arrested, they must be taken to court and given a reasonably tougher sentence than is the case now where the maximum penalty is a K1 million fine. A 10 year strategic plan called the National Elephants Action Plan has also been hatched specifically targeting elephants outlines how to take care of the animals. We are also raising awareness in border posts, airports and hotels against the practice.
Some have suggested that the seized ivory shouldn’t be burned, that it should be kept somewhere like a museum for people to appreciate the horror of poaching. What’s your take?
That’s a brilliant idea, but one doesn’t look at the whole scenario. The problem is that this thought doesn’t consider the security capabilities of our law enforcing agencies. If criminals can break into a police station and steal guns; a museum is nothing. Ivory can’t last a day in a museum, it will all be gone within a night. So, before we start thinking about putting the ivory in museums let’s fix our security. However, people shouldn’t panic because not all ivory is going away, some representative samples will remain for educational purposes.