IN COURT: SUCCESSES & DISAPPOINTMENTS

0616_ivoryProject: Anti-trafficking initiatives, Illegal Wildlife Trade

UPDATE: 31 ARRESTS AND 127.82KG SEIZED IVORY IN FIRST 3 MONTHS – 1ST AUGUST

The Wildlife Crime Investigations Unit (WCIU), is already reaping results, making 31 arrests, and confiscating 127.82Kg  of ivory since its launch in April: http://www.lilongwewildlife.org/2016/03/15/new-wildlife-crime-investigations-unit-malawi/

Community Enforcement Networks (CEN’s, also known as community scout systems here in Malawi)  have also been established around the protected areas of Vwaza and Kasungu, with the view to providing sustainable livelihoods for communities affected by wildlife crime whilst also strengthening law enforcement.

The WCIU is funded by the British Government and is the first ever unit in Malawi to specialise in wildlife crime. It sits within the Department of national Parks & Wildlife (DNPW) and is being run in partnership with Lilongwe Wildlife Trust and IFAW for the first two years. The project uses a multi-agency approach to provide a swift and effective response to serious wildlife crimes, particularly those involving elephants and illegal ivory trade.

For more information please contact our Senior Wildlife Crime Advisor, Tommy Mhango- tommy@lilongwewildlife.org.

Custodial sentences with no option of a fine have been handed out in two ivory cases tried last month – an encouraging trend that shows at least some magistrates are recognising illegal wildlife trade as a serious crime. A man found in possession of 19kg of ivory was sentenced to 13 months in prison in Mzuzu, and three men found with 42kg in Liwonde were each sentenced to 7 years. In the latter case the courts also ordered the destruction of the contraband ivory.

However, the outcomes of two other cases tried in Lilongwe were wholly inadequate. Two men caught in possession of a large number of turtles were fined just $100 each, and a man found in possession of 61 pieces of ivory received a paltry MK50,000 fine.  The lllegal Wildlife Trade Review (http://www.lilongwewildlife.org/programmes/advocacy/illegal-wildlife-trade-assessment/), published in May 2015, highlighted weak legislation and poor sentences passed as key reasons why Malawi is seen as a soft target for wildlife traffickers.  For example, between 2010 and 2014 the courts sentenced ivory traffickers to an average fine of just $40.
Illegal wildlife trade is now the 4th largest transnational crime in the world and one of the greatest threats to wildlife survival, and sentencing in line with the gravity of the crime is critical if wildlife criminals are to be brought to justice and would-be perpetrators deterred.  Amendments to the National Parks & Wildlife Act are set to be passed in the next Parliament sitting in October and a new court monitoring project for wildlife crimes is set to start in August, both of which should improve sentencing – more news on both these projects coming soon.

CASE DETAILS

Date: 21 April 2016
Court: Lilongwe Magistrates
Defendants: Gidion Tiribe, Juma Chirambo, Aron Bangu, Jeremiah Malichi
Sentencing details: Found in possession of 61 pieces of ivory (15kg). MK 90,000 fine.
Comments: Only Gidion and Juma were convicted and fined. The others were acquitted after the duo clarified in court that their colleagues were not connected to the case.

Date: 10 June 2016
Court: Lilongwe Magistrates
Defendants: Wei Li (Chinese National) and Samson Songolani (Malawian)
Sentencing details: Possession of a protected turtle species contrary to Section 86(1) of the National Parks Act. Found guilty of keeping and breeding these turtles and exporting them to Zambia for meat and shells. MK80,000 (equivalent to USD100) fine.  No custodial sentence.
Comments:  Turtles are a protected species just like elephants and rhinos and should be offered the same level of protection.

Date: 23 June 2016
Court: Mzuzu Magistrates
Defendants: Anthony Kitha, 54, Malawian
Sentencing details: Found in possession of 4 elephant tusks weighing 19kg.  Found in possession of a government trophy. Sentenced to 13 months in jail with hard labour, no option of a fine.
Comments: This is the first time in Malawi since 2004 that a case brought to court with only charges of ivory possession/trafficking (i.e. no additional associated killing of a protected species) has resulted in a jail sentence with no option of a fine. Kitha is known to have been working in the illegal ivory trade in both Malawi and Zambia for several years, so his apprehension is good news for both Malawi and Zambia.

Date: 24 June 2016
Court: Liwonde Magistrates
Defendants: James Mwela, Mavuto Giniford and Dominic Nyirongo (all Malawian)
Sentencing details: Found in possession of 42 kgs of raw ivory and two rounds of AK47 ammunition. The firearm was not found. Each sentenced to 7 years in prison with no option of a fine after being found guilty of multiple wildlife crime charges, including killing, possessing and selling a protected species. The destruction of the six tusks was also ordered.
Comments: A good result where the courts used several charges, and also recognised that there was no value to the seized ivory on legal markets, that it could only be used for criminal gain, and therefore should be destroyed in line with other contraband goods.