When fires say no to illegal ivory trade

Published in The Sunday Times Malawi, 29th March 2015.

Written by Charles Mkoka

 

IMG_1795Africa countries have resorted to fire to say no to the booming illegal Ivory trade on the continent now spreading like a ripple. Torching of ivory stockpiles is sending a strong message to the world that residents are now tired with syndicates that are being fuelled by organized criminals to decimate species to extinction, only to benefit a select few.

 

Tens of thousands of elephants are killed each year for their ivory on the continent. This has resulted in the number of elephants declining annually, a big blow to the tourism industry, recreation and posterity. It is not surprising, therefore, that one of East Africa eco-tourism hub took a bold step that enough is enough. Kenya commemorated World Wildlife Day on March 3 with a symbolic torching of 15 tonnes of ivory and a pledge to destroy the rest of the country’s stockpiles shortly.

 

President Uhuru Kenyatta said, “in order to underline our determination to eradicate poaching, my government shall burn the rest of the stockpile within this year.”

 

Ethiopia became the second country this year alone to torch its six tonnes of ivory after Nairobi, as a symbolic gesture that poaching has devastating effects on conservation, state security and the overall economy as a whole.

 

The theme around this year’s World Wildlife Day is of particular significance to Malawi, asking the world to ‘Get Serious About Wildlife Crime’. Worth an estimated US$19 billion annually, the illegal wildlife trade is the second biggest illegal trafficking market in the world behind drugs, and closely follows habitat loss as a threat to species worldwide.

 

According to a recent report by David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an elephant is worth around $1.6 million to a country’s economy over its lifetime, distributed among a wide range of recipients from airlines, hospitality and travel industries to local economies. This is the commercial loss calculated when a young elephant dies at the hands of an ivory poacher, in comparison to if the animal would have contributed to the economy had it lived a full and happy life.

 

Extrapolating figures, a single living elephant is worth more than 76 times that of a dead one, taking into account tourism revenue versus value of an ivory. However, if poaching continues at the current rate elephants will be extinct by 2025. Between January and August 2014, 17.8 tonnes of ivory, equivalent to 1,940 elephants, were sere seized, and given that an estimated 10 percent of illegal ivory is intercepted then up to 19,400 elephants were killed by poachers within eight months.

 

Locally there have been major strides that have been achieved and these include the launch of the National Elephant Action Plan, led by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, with technical support from Stop Ivory, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Lilongwe Wildlife Trust. A recent announcement by the Elephant Protection Initiative, a new global funding partnership, confirmed Malawi’s completion of an ivory inventory and the government’s intention to burn its ivory stockpiles.

 

In recent times the judiciary has handed record sentences out to poachers and wildlife traffickers including fines of MK 1,000,000 and maximum custodial sentences. An Inter-Agency Committee to Combat Wildlife Crime (IACCWC) has been established with representation from local and international enforcement and non-governmental partners. A legal review of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 2004 is underway to strengthen legislation and appraise compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

 

It is now time for Malawians to understand that wildlife is the number one draw to tourists who come from far and wide to get a glimpse of Africa’s majestic creatures, such as elephants the largest land mammal and rhinos. However, the decline of these flagship species is putting ecotourism opportunities in jeopardy.

 

So yes just like Kenya and Ethiopia have demonstrated there is another way of sending a strong message to all those hell bent at seeing species to extinction. But be assured that major steps are being taken by Malawi to address all loopholes and soon the syndicates will pay the price for this malpractice.