Published in The Sunday Times on 21st December 2014

By Charles Mkoka

charles mkoka article 001”THE decline of Africa’s elephants will be inexorable until ivory ceases to be a commodity,” Ian Douglas- Hamilton, Founder Save the Elephants.

The words ‘Stop Wildlife Crime,’ echoed through the walls of Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) where a campaign to save Malawi’s endangered species (Elephants and Rhinoceros) engaged a higher gear last Tuesday. As part of the entourage, I really felt great, to move around the airport premises to appreciate the posters and banners for both staff and travellers on how to detect baggage, especially those that conceal pieces of worked and raw ivory and also awareness messages to the public at large to stop the vice.

More importantly, I was particularly impressed with how Airport Commandant Donnie Chimtengo plus Police, immigration, National Intelligence Bureau and Malawi Revenue Authority officers welcomed the campaign. As well eluded to by Chimtengo, the airport is an exit port and international border for the country.

As such, it is incumbent upon Malawians to ensure they safeguard the country’s territorial integrity and its God given natural resources. Not surprisingly though, that the main airport has been awash with posters and banners that carry the ‘Stop Wildlife Crime’ messages, considering the swell of ivory seizure cases and interceptions recorded in recent times.

Statistics on seizures and interceptions show that there have been in excess of over 25 known incidences of attempted trafficking in the last three years. We can only assume that many more attempts are made and are unfortunately successful. Such sensitization (the presence of banners and posters) on the law regarding illegal wildlife trade says a strong advocate and campaigner against illicit wildlife trade should alert passengers and staff to the need to be fully aware and ready to report or catch such criminals.

The coming in of the German and lately the British government to raise awareness on wildlife crime has prompted local enforcement institutions to be seen that they are also taking a role to address the malpractice. Chimtengo said they have been put in a picture on the dangers and consequences that might happen to the economy and also the governance situation bearing in mind the insecurity effects created by such offenders at national level.
The illegal wildlife trade, and the poaching which feeds it, has in some places reached unprecedented levels. Serious poaching incidents are more frequent, occurring in areas previously safe from such activity, and are more devastating in scale. Individual poachers or ad hoc guns are being increasingly replaced by well resourced and organised groups including transnational criminal networks.

The resultant effects are that illicit trade ropes states and communities of their natural capital and cultural heritage, with serious economic and social consequences. It undermines the livelihoods of natural resource dependent communities. It damages the health of the ecosystems they depend on, undermining sustainable economic development. The criminal activity and corruption associated with trafficking restricts the potential for sustainable investment and development which is needed in new economic activities and enterprises.

As such there is need for decisive and urgent action to tackle the illegal wildlife trade in endangered fauna and flora. For many species, the illegal trade, and the poaching which fuels it, is an ongoing and growing problem. There has been a particularly dramatic escalation in the rate of poaching of elephants and rhinoceroses in some places in recent years. The severe threat posed to these iconic species is increasingly also a threat to regional security and sustainable development. Action to tackle the illegal trade in elephants and rhinoceroses will strengthen our effectiveness in tackling the illegal trade in other endangered species. Such action will also support the sustainable utilization of resources.

There is need for more support, and where appropriate undertake, effectively targeted actions to eradicate demand and supply for illegal wildlife products, including but not limited to, raising awareness and changing behaviour. Government support is important to ensure demand and supply side reduction efforts are implemented on the scale and in the time frame needed to have a meaningful impact. Governments should work in partnership with relevant stakeholders, including civil society, sectoral experts and key influencers, including business. Actions should be scientific and clearly evidence based, building on research into users’ values and behaviour, and form part of coherent demand and supply side reduction strategies.

The multi agency task force a local grouping of various enforcement partners has actually proved that synergies are indeed needed for a holistic approach to curb the wildlife crime. A very typical example is the case at the KIA where police, customs, immigration and intelligence are teaming up raise the much needed awareness save the country’s wildlife and heritage resource.

The Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, National Parks and Wildlife plus Airport Development Limited including various enforcement institutions back to campaign should make staff and travellers aware that deliberate violation of the law to engage in endangered species trophy trafficking will result in culprits being prosecuted for wildlife crime which has been described as a serious offence by the courts in recent times.