Malawi Sting: Fighting Poaching One Opportunity at a Time
As the sun goes down at the Mvuu Lodge in the Liwonde National Park in Malawi, you don’t simply say, “ I am off to bed”, and head to your room. You wait for guards to escort you.
I thought perhaps they were exaggerating to increase the sense of adventure but after seeing a baboon get taken by a crocodile right below the porch where we were sipping coffee, I decided that they were serious and so I got serious about following the rules!
As I headed to my room the first night, we carefully walked by hippos grazing: I was reminded by the guard that hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal so respect was foremost in my mind and we were careful not to put ourselves between the hippo and the water.
We also had elephants grazing on trees right next to our room and that kept the purpose of our trip to this incredible national park in focus. The International Fund for Animal Welfare is working to secure the park and to engage with the surrounding community to gain their support of our efforts.
The following night, we were invited to eat around a campfire with the rangers who put their lives on the line to protect the elephants and other animals in the park.
We hiked from the closest path in the area of the park that serves as a rhino sanctuary to the site where the rangers had made their camp.
During a great meal prepared by the rangers I noticed that Mike Lambuschagne, IFAW project manager, received a phone call on his mobile. He appeared to be rather animated and he later told me that his team had the opportunity to carry out an “operation” and he needed to attend to it right away.
When you are in the bush, Mike strikes you as the type of guy that you should listen to and so I said that we were happy to head back to the lodge and let his men get on with what they needed to do. I was also happy to see the rangers had hand held GPS units on them as we walked through rhino territory in the pitch black towards the jeep we had left in a river bed about a kilometer away!
The next morning, I met back up with Mike and he told me that the operation had been successful and they had managed to make contact with a fellow willing to sell one of his undercover men ivory taken from a poached elephant.
The IFAW project had made it possible to set up a network of informers and our undercover man was able to lure the seller to an isolated place and “purchase” the illegal ivory.
The sting operation almost went bad when the seller became suspicious when a mobile phone went off but everyone remained calm and they got a hold of the ivory.
The rangers did not move in to make an arrest right away but, instead, let the poacher go back to his village so that they could find out more about the illegal network operating in the area. An arrest will have to be made within seven days in order for a prosecution to go through so the rangers are keeping a close eye on this guy.
The ivory tusks weighed about 12 kilos all told and the poacher asked 80,000 Kwacha, about USD 533.00, a small fortune in this poor country.
I was really proud that IFAW invested in these guys brave ranger efforts and made it possible for them to do their jobs and stop the bad guys.
The follow up is going to be important so that we can send a message that poaching does not pay. This is the type of project that translates the concept of elephant conservation into reality on the ground and the results are clear: poachers are going to pay the price, not elephants.
For more information about the International Fund for Animal Welfare efforts to save animals in crisis around the world, visit http://www.ifaw.org