Last week, 50kg of ivory was confiscated at Malawi’s Kamuzu International Airport.  It had been worked into 2,700 cubes and inlaid into wooden boards destined for China. By Friday a 25 year old Chinese businessman, Axin Shang, was found guilty of ivory trafficking, fined MK1 million (US$2,440) and deported from the country.

‘Considering current legislation it’s encouraging to see magistrates handing out a record fine,’ said Jonathan Vaughan, Manager of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust.  ‘But the penalties don’t reflect the gravity of the crimes – this particular haul was worth around $75,000. What’s more, the survival of a whole species is now at stake.  Malawi is so lucky to have such rich and diverse natural heritage, but as is the case for many African countries the decline in wildlife is alarming. If poaching continues at this rate, there will be no wild elephants left in Africa by 2025.’

In light of cases like this, a GIZ funded project offers hope.  The Polifund has been set up to combat poaching and the illegal wildlife trade, specifically in ivory and rhino horn in Africa and Asia, by looking at the entire illegal trade chain from the source of the poaching and transportation through to supply and demand across continents.

Malawi is one of the first countries to benefit from the fund, where local and international NGO’s will work alongside the Department of National Parks & Wildlife (DNPW) on the assessment.  These NGO’s include Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, the Born Free Foundation and the International Environmental Law Project all of whom are members of the Species Survival Network (SSN), a consortium committed to promote and enforce CITES.

The project will assess Malawi’s capabilities to combat illegal wildlife trade against the recommendations outlined in the UNODC wildlife and forest crime toolkit, covering the existing infrastructure such as the judiciary and magistrates, legislation, data communications and management, and law enforcement.

Last week’s record breaking conviction is a gigantic step forward for Malawi in view of what the Prolifund is setting out to achieve. Tougher punishments make it less appealing to partake in this type of illegal activity and if Malawi can improve on this further, along with other aspects of contending with the illegal wildlife trade, the future of the country’s wildlife could be looking brighter.

One of the wooden boards inlaid with cubes of ivory
One of the wooden boards inlaid with cubes of ivory