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Malawi is just one of the countries in the SADC region facing the threats of wildlife crime. The increased trend in poaching of animals such as elephants and pangolins is largely due to a growing demand for their ivory and scales on the international black market. Patricio Ndadzela is the Chief of Party for IFAW’S Malawi-Zambia Transboundary Landscape Project and explains what they are doing to address the problem.
1. How serious is the problem of wildlife crime in Malawi?
Malawi is one of the countries facing pressures in the poaching of elephants and other wildlife species for illegal financial gains. Wildlife trafficking poses a threat to sustainable development across the globe, undermining the economic prosperity of many countries, threatening their natural resources, and inhibiting benefits derived from legal nature-based enterprises like tourism. Wildlife crime erodes social stability and impoverishes citizens as their cultural and natural heritage is robbed. Natural resource-dependent communities are exposed to security threats and destruction of their livelihoods. Impoverished communities, with limited alternative sources of income, are more likely to facilitate or even engage in poaching activities.
2. We understand Malawi is one of the countries where elephants are declining, what is being done to reverse the trend?
Malawi is both a source of illicit ivory and a significant transit and distribution hub for ivory sourced from surrounding countries. This criminal activity is driving elephant poaching in the Zambia-Malawi Trans frontier Conservation Area (TFCA); therefore, enforcement measures to address the killing in Zambia must address trafficking in Malawi. Malawi is situated in the heart of Southern Africa with air transit routes to China as well as road transport links with Tanzania and Mozambique. Since January 2016 more than 100 cases of ivory buying, trafficking or trade in Malawi (many at the international airport) have taken place and Malawi was identified in the recent ETIS (Elephant Trade Information System) CoP17 report as being ‘one of four countries of primary concern’.
In order to address the problem, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) with partners such as the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust in Malawi, Wildlife Crime Prevention in Zambia and the Departments of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) in both Zambia and Malawi through a project called Combating Wildlife Crime (CWC) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are strengthening efforts to curtail poaching and wildlife trafficking in Malawi and Zambia.
The targeted landscape falls within the Malawi-Zambia TFCA. The TFCA encompasses more than 32,000 km² of protected landscape, which incorporates national parks, wildlife reserves, forest reserves, game management areas and communal lands. The TFCA includes Zambia’s North Luangwa National Park, South Luangwa National Park, Luambe National Park, Lukusuzi National Park and Malawi’s Kasungu and Nyika national parks.
3. Poaching is a national problem, why are you focusing on one area?
The Malawi-Zambia landscape has emerged as a major ivory transit and source landscape because of its geographic location. Ivory moves from northern Mozambique, southeastern Tanzania and Zambia through to Malawi where it is illegally processed for consumer markets in Southeast Asia and China.
This landscape is also under increasing poaching pressure as syndicates develop more sophisticated poaching and smuggling methods. For example, the elephant population in Kasungu National Park was reduced from over 1,000 in 1977 to fewer than 50 in 2015.
Luambe and Lukusuzi are vital systems for the dispersal of elephants from the Luangwa valley and the low number of elephants is indicative of a pressure on the system, through poaching and/or habitat disturbance. Research by the Conservation Ecology Research Unit (CERU) has also indicated that as climate change takes effect, the east of the continent is likely to be more climate-resilient. These potential changes make it even important that we proactively secure these more resilient habitats as the competition between humans and wildlife for resources is going to increase.
4. Combatting wildlife crime requires a holistic approach, what are you doing to achieve this?
It is true that combatting wildlife crime requires a holistic approach that combines stronger law enforcement, including crime prevention, with improved wildlife management. Improved enforcement alone, while necessary, will not slow the illegal wildlife trade in time to save many critically endangered species. We are making sure that all stakeholder work in harmony by incorporating on-the-ground cross-border cooperation and a high-level enabling environment that prioritizes conserving wildlife for economic development and local, national, and regional stability.
We are also making sure that communities living near protected areas participate in decision-making around wildlife management. Collaboration with communities is critical to preventing poaching. Without addressing the socio-political drivers that motivate wildlife crime, strengthening law enforcement will be less successful. Building trust among communities, civil society, business, and law enforcement has been critical in helping to develop community-oriented crime prevention approaches and support investigation of wildlife crimes, as well as information gathering and sharing.
We are also making sure that there is effective and credible deterrence to continued illegal use of wildlife. This means implementing capable and effective apprehension, prosecution, and adjudication systems and methodologies, combined with vigorous penalties for violators. Along with strengthening incentives and opportunities to promote wildlife conservation, it is critical to strengthen the disincentives to participate in wildlife crime.
5. The project has been implemented for over two years now, but we are still hearing cases of poaching, don’t you think you have failed as a project?
There are so many poaching cases being reported by the media that shows that the culprits are being brought to book. As IFAW, we are working with various partners and members of the community to deal with the problem.
6. What do you intend to achieve at the end of the project and what are the activities you are implementing?
The project started in May 2017 and it comes to an end in 2022 and our goal is to see elephant populations stabilise or increase in the targeted TFCA landscape through a decrease in poaching-related mortalities. In Kasungu National Park we are already seeing steady growth in elephant populations, from few than 50 in 2015 to over 80 in 2019. Only one elephant has been poached in the park since 2017.
In partnership with government agencies in Zambia and Malawi, the Project is strengthening wildlife crime enforcement in the region by supporting regional coordination among agencies and prioritising wildlife crime across enforcement and regulatory agencies. IFAW has brought together all relevant stakeholders in the landscape to create an enduring conservation partnership to better leverage resources and attain sustained wildlife protection with particular attention to creating community awareness and community participation in wildlife protection.
IFAW is working with both governments and communities to address the scourge of wildlife poaching and trafficking while using sound science to understand the dynamics of elephants within the landscape and the needs of communities living on the edges of protected areas to enhance their wellbeing.