Duke backs war on wildlife crime

Not long ago, Malawi was southern Africa’s main transit route for wildlife criminals due to weak laws. Then, convicted poachers and traffickers walked free after paying fines of just about K30 000.

Not any longer.

The amendment of the Wildlife Act in 2016 has earned the country global praise, thanks to swift response and stiff penalties.

Government established the Wildlife Crime Investigations Unit and an Inter-Agency Committee to Combat Wildlife Crime.

Recent ly, the Duke of Gloucester flew in and spent two days appreciating the country’s renewed war on wildlife crimes ahead of the fourth Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference slated for October in London.

The gathering brings together international leaders to strengthen political commitment towards ending illegal trade in wildlife products.

For the past decade, the duke has been a royal patron of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust—a keen advocate for conservation.

During his visit, he commended the Parliamentary Conservation Caucus launched by President Peter Mutharika in 2015.

The caucus is open to all legislators passionate about the cause, rallying both sides of the political divide to conserving wildlife.

Early last year, it was instrumental in persuading Parliament to pass the new wildlife law swiftly.

The lawmakers’ attention has since switched to passing the long-awaited Forestry Act.

But the impact of the law against wildlife crimes is evident in increased arrests and convictions since last year.

The majority of 125 convicted in 2017 involved ivory trafficking— and the courts have taken a tough stance, sentencing a trafficker to a record 18 years in jail.

“Given that the caucus’ objective includes building high-level political will to protect Malawi’s natural resources, it has been an honour to take part in this briefing with His Royal Highness,” said Nkhata Bay West legislator Commodious Nyirenda, who speaks for the parliamentary caucus.

He said Illegal trade in wildlife and forestry products is one of the biggest challenges.

“However, it is a global challenge that requires international collaboration,” said Nyirenda.

British, German and US governments support various efforts to combat wildlife crime in Malawi.

Last year, National Parks and Wildlife director Brighton Kumchedwa won the coveted Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa in recognition of concerted efforts to eliminate wildlife crimes.

The award-winner was in attendance when the duke attended a high-level briefing in Lilongwe on illegal wildlife trade.

The duke also visited Liwonde National Park, the country’s second big five sanctuary following the arrival of lions from South Africa.

“Conservation has been viewed by many as a luxury compared to health, agriculture and other urgent needs, but it is inextricably linked with almost every facet of our lives and governance. It is now a necessity for the survival of humanity,” said Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya. Contributor

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