The Department of Wildlife and Parks was yesterday ambushed by lawyers representing Tanzania who successfully obtained an injunction against the burning of 2.6 tonnes of ivory at Mzuzu Nature Sanctuary.
Tanzania’s intervention follows revelations that some of the 350 elephants thought to have been killed for the tusks originated from that country and it needed to be tendered as evidence in cases in its courts.
Director of parks and wildlife Bright Kumchedwa decried Tanzania’s action to seek the court reprieve at the eleventh hour, despite being alerted at the same time as Mozambique, which gave them the go-ahead.
“We sent some samples to the US and DNA analyses showed that the ivory originated from Tanzania and Mozambique. We didn’t want to act in bad faith, so we wrote both countries soon after the court ruling in July. It is unfortunate our colleagues were not open enough. If they had not showed up at the eleventh hour, we would have gone ahead with the burning,” he said.
Kumchedwa added: “We are committed to burning the ivory and crackdown on the syndicate which is depleting the country’s elephant population and turning the country into a conduit for ivory trade.”
Judge Dingiswayo Madise in July fined Patrick and Chancy Kaunda K2.5 million each for being found in possession of ivory—which was hidden under bags of cement in the their van—with an estimated street value of K4.5 billion.
He also ordered the department to burn the contraband within 20 days, but government sought 40 more days to finalise some procedures.
The contraband was intercepted by Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) officials at Bwengu in Mzimba in June 2013, but the Kaundas’ case compelled President Peter Mutharika to postpone the burning of Malawi’s 6.6 tonnes stockpile of ivory during the World Wildlife Day commemorations on April 2.
The department was all set to incinerate the 871 pieces of ivory in line with the High Court order which judge Madise issued.
But uncertainty and anxiety was at an all time high around 11am when senior state advocate Neverson Chisiza emerged from Mzuzu Court House, saying: “Judge Madise has granted the government of Tanzania a stay order.”
The injunction gives the two countries 90 days to complete negotiations on the possibilities of Tanzania’s request to tender the ivory as evidence in ivory syndicate cases that are still ongoing in its courts.
“The convicts were working with their colleagues in Tanzania. It’s unfortunate the cases in that country dragged. But the stay order does not guarantee that we will send back the ivory to Tanzania as exhibits in their court,” said Chisiza.
Madise also ordered Tanzania to pay K1 million as damages for various expenditures towards the burning ceremony that failed.
When Weekend Nation visited the venue for the incineration, parks officials had already prepared a fire stand, chairs were already set for delegates and Madise was rushing back to the court where lawyer Chrispin Ghambi was waiting to present Dodoma’s case.
“We are dismayed by the outcome. Malawi’s political will to end wildlife crimes is clear and we are shocked its efforts to put ivory out of economic use have been thwarted,” said conservationist Kate Moore of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust.
Both countries, which seem to have uneasy ties due to the ongoing border dispute over Lake Malawi, are signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), which bans international trade in endangered species, including elephants.
The illegal trade in parts of the endangered land mammal is usually traced to Asia. Malawi’s elephants population has dropped from 4 000 to 2 000 in the past 15 years.