Government is expected to burn down ivory with a street value of K3.8 billion ($72.5 million) within the next 30 days following a ruling by the High Court in Mzuzu.
Judge Dingiswayo Madise on July 28 ordered government to dispose of the 781 pieces of ivory it seized in May 2013 within 20 days but the period was extended by 40 more days following a court waiver sought by government.
Madise ordered the disposal after sentencing Patrick and Chancy Kaunda to pay a K5 million ($9 542) fine or serve a seven-year jail term in default for ivory trade and money laundering. They paid the fine.
Director of National Parks and Wildlife, Brighton Kumchedwa, said in an interview this week that his office sought an extension of the period within which the ivory could be burned so it could inform Tanzania and Mozambique, where the ivory originated, about the court order.
Kumchedwa said an assessment of the seized ivory, which government had earlier planned to burn at a highly publicised event in April, originated from the two neighbouring countries and not Malawi.
He said Malawi still retains an obligation to burn the ivory in line with international conventions to which the country is a signatory.
“The Mozambique government has since acknowledged to have received the court order and we are waiting for the Tanzania government to respond,” he said.
“We are in the process of making an inventory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) for the roll call of each and every ivory that is supposed to be burnt,” said Kumchedwa.
He said it is obligatory to provide Cites with information on each piece of ivory that is to be burned in case some of it goes missing.
Kumchedwa, however, hinted that some people are after the ivory, hence their efforts to burn it as quickly as possible.
He cited an incident last year when a holding bay where some ivory was being kept came under attack by armed robbers but they were repelled by security on the premises.
He further dismissed rumours that some or all of the ivory that was supposed to be burnt by President Peter Mutharika had vanished from its holding bay.
In April, Mutharika postponed the burning of the ivory—whose estimated street value is K3.8 billion—at a highly publicised event to allow for the conclusion of the court case.
The elephant tusks were seized in May 2013 in an operation by the Flexible Anti Smuggling Team (Fast) of the Malawi Revenue Authority.
The contraband was concealed beneath a consignment of 300 bags of cement in a truck belonging to Chancy Kaunda, which was coming from Mbeya in Tanzania on its way to Lilongwe.
The decision to burn one of the world precious animal products drew mixed reaction from Malawians, with some questioning the wisdom of incinerating the ivory while others argued disposing of it could help curb the poaching of elephants in the country.
Some Malawians on social media argued that with more than half of the population living below a dollar a day, government was morally obliged to sell the ivory and use the proceeds to serve impoverished Malawians.
But both international and local animal rights groups applauded the President for the decision to burn the ivory, saying it was one way of protecting elephants which contribute a lot of tourism revenue.