Written by: Kate Moore, Programmes Manager, Lilongwe Wildlife Trust
Renowned conservationist, Ian Redmond, has stepped forward to champion Malawi’s fight against wildlife crime following the government’s announcement of its ivory burn this Thursday 2nd April. Head of State, His Excellency Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi, will set light to four tonnes of ivory in a show of the highest possible political will and a demonstration to the world of Malawi’s commitment to combat the illegal wildlife trade.
Redmond, who is also Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme Convention of Migratory Species, said, “Last year I watched the French government grind over three tonnes of illegal ivory to dust, last month Kenya torched 15 tonnes of ivory, and now Malawi has followed suit with its stockpile of four tonnes. People say, ‘Why not sell it and use the money to protect elephants’ but that would be like throwing petrol on a fire! As long as there is a legal ivory trade, there will be criminals trying to launder illegal ivory into that trade. Elephants and people will be killed in the process. As elephant numbers plummet across Africa, this is no time to repeat the mistakes of the past – Malawi is to be congratulated for sending a clear signal to the world – the fashion for ivory is over! Wildlife crime will not be tolerated. Criminals will be prosecuted and their contraband destroyed. Elephants will be valued for the role they play in the ecology of Africa as super-keystone species – mega-gardeners of the forest and savannah.”
Malawi is known for its vibrant culture and friendly people, and the occasion is expected to reflect the warm heart of Africa, the nation’s love of wildlife and a renewed commitment to protect its natural heritage. Members of the public will join the government and NGO’s in a solidarity walk to parliament where the ceremony will take place. Just before the torching, the President will accept signatures from over 7,000 people who recently joined the campaign to ‘Stop Wildlife Crime. Protect Malawi’s Wildlife’. This move will recognise both the public support galvanised through the campaign and the importance of engaging all sectors of society in the fight against wildlife crime moving forward.
Jonathan Vaughan, Director of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, said, “The four tonnes of ivory that will be destroyed equates to roughly 500 elephants*. Malawi’s current elephant populations stand at around 1500*, declining at such a rate at the hands of poachers that they may be extinct within a decade. And it’s not just Malawi’s death toll that this stockpile represents. We know that the confiscated ivory comes from a variety of sources, including Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique, showing that Malawi is being targeted as a transit route by traffickers moving over 500kg at a time. There have been 36 seizures of between 5 and 100kg at the country’s two international airports in the past 5 years. We hope the world stands up and gives Malawi the recognition it deserves for this symbolic act, a call to put ivory out of commercial use for the sake of Africa and its elephants.”
He added, “So much has been achieved here in the past year and the ‘Stop Wildlife Crime’ campaign is just one of these initiatives. We’re seeing stiffer sentences, better inter-agency collaboration and the re-writing of laws. Whilst next week we shall be taking a moment to celebrate Malawi’s accomplishments, these commemorations in reality signify the start of a long fight. For years few people have paid attention to this country and its wildlife. At the very least, Malawi is the first SADC country this century to destroy its ivory. There is now an opportunity for Malawi to become a role model for the region if the initiatives planned for the coming year can be carried out with equal vigour.”
Brighton Kumchedwa, Director of Parks & Wildlife, has said, “Whilst we have achieved some tremendous results in the last year, wildlife conservation is heading towards a crisis that requires collaboration, grit and determination. The fight has only just begun.”
Lynn Clifford, Director of Wildlife Action Group, a partner of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, commented on the impact of the move on their work protecting the elephants in Thuma Forest Reserve. She said, “This is a huge boost to our work on the ground. Persuading law enforcers to crack down on poachers gets a whole lot easier when the President himself gives such a clear vote of support for the fight against wildlife crime. We are thrilled with the news.”
About the Campaign to “Stop Wildlife Crime. Protect Malawi’s Wildlife”
The ‘Stop Wildlife Crime. Protect Malawi’s Wildlife’ campaign was launched on World Wildlife Day in March 2014. As a joint initiative between Lilongwe Wildlife Trust and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, it aims to:
• Raise awareness about the seriousness of wildlife crime and the importance of protecting our natural heritage
• Push wildlife conservation issues onto the agenda of decision makers and law enforcers.
• Deter individuals from getting involved in wildlife crime
• Encourage the public to take action if they see any suspicious activity
The petition asking the government to say ‘no’ to ivory was organised jointly by Wildlife Action Group, Lilongwe Wildlife Trust and the Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi.
The campaign is currently highlighting elephant poaching and ivory trafficking as serious wildlife crimes. There are many other crimes that are impacting Malawi’s wildlife – such as the illegal logging which could soon lead to the extinction of the Mulanje cedar, Malawi’s national tree, and the pet and bushmeat trades which impact wildlife welfare – and we shall be tackling them in due course.
It is currently funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Find out more at www.malawiwildlife.org.