Thousands of marchers took to the streets in cities around the world this weekend asking governments to take whatever action is necessary to stop the illegal wildlife trade that is threatening elephants and rhinos with extinction.
One of the biggest marches took place in London, where Malawi was invited to speak out about its own wildlife crisis at home, some 8000km away. Ian Musayni, First Counsellor to the Malawi High Commission, said, “Malawi’s elephant populations have halved since the 1980’s and we have just a handful of rhinos left. Poachers are murdering them for their horns and ivory tusks to make ornaments, trinkets and medicines that don’t work. Our trade routes are being exploited by traffickers bringing ivory in from neighbouring countries, and this in itself is a threat not just to regional elephant populations but also to our own national security.” He continued, “Despite being a nation of limited resources facing many humanitarian challenges, we are stepping up to fight wildlife crime and shun the ivory trade.”
He ended by calling for more support from the international community, saying, “Despite our best efforts, this is a battle that we cannot win alone. As I stand here in London telling you of our own nation’s plight, I no doubt speak for many other African countries facing the same challenges. This is a global problem requiring a global response. To all of you standing here today, please accept our heartfelt thanks, your voices are being heard back in the Warm Heart of Africa.”
William Hague, ambassador of the Royal Foundation’s United for Wildlife and former Foreign Secretary for Great Britain, said in his message of support to marchers, “I applaud you, and the countless numbers across the world who give their time, energy, and passion to this vital issue. With enough political and collective will we can make a lasting difference to this terrible trade, and save the animals that are vital to the world’s natural heritage.”
MALAWI SPEAKS OUT IN LONDON, LILONGWE & NEW YORK
The march was just one of three high profile events spanning three continents within the last week that drew attention to Malawi’s commitment to fight wildlife crime.
On Monday, over 50 representatives attended a conference on wildlife and forest crime, organised by UNDP, the ICCF Group, CEPA and Lilongwe Wildlife Trust.
At the subsequent press conference, co-chair of the Malawi Parliamentary Caucus, Hon. Werani Chilenga, said, “We are at a tipping point and we must do whatever we can to stop this crisis in its tracks,” Chilenga warned. “There is currently substantial momentum in the wildlife sector…MPCC is committed to doing whatever it can to help.”
That evening in New York, Malawian President, H.E. Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika, also spoke out at a wildlife trafficking reception organised by the ICCF Group, which was also attended by the presidents of Tanzania and Gabon.
“Malawi is a peaceful nation known for its friendly people and rich natural heritage. Visitors flock from around the world to see our lakes, mountains and national parks that teem with wildlife,” said Mutharika in his keynote address. “This may not be the case in 20 years’ time, because by then two of Africa’s most iconic species – the elephant and rhino – may well only be seen in history books.”
He continued, “Despite the limited resources, my government is stepping up the fight against illegal wildlife trade,” and he went on to highlight Malawi’s key commitments and successes to date.
TRANSLATING SENTIMENT INTO ACTION
Malawi has indeed made some significant steps forward. In the past two years, the Government has pledged international cooperation to combat illegal wildlife trade through agreements like the London & Arusha Declarations, the Kasane Statement and the Elephant Protection Initiative. At home, an Inter-Agency Committee on Combatting Wildlife Crime has been set up to encourage greater collaboration and a nationwide assessment on illegal wildlife trade has established the extent of the challenge and key priorities. The newly formed Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus is driving collaboration between Government, businesses, NGO’s and development partners. A number of anti-poaching and trafficking initiatives, such as airport sniffer dogs, have been introduced.
Unfortunately this year’s high profile setbacks – namely the last minute postponement of the destruction of ivory stockpiles in May, and the weak sentencing handed out to traffickers in the high profile Mzuzu case, which involved 2.6 tonnes of illegal ivory, in August – are still hitting the headlines, and have to some extent undermined messages on the tough stance against wildlife crime.
Conservationists are however focusing on the positives. Malawi’s government remains committed to destroying its ivory stockpiles, thus putting them out of economic use, and revisions to the Wildlife Act and its associated policies are underway and scheduled to be passed in February 2016.
Jonathan Vaughan, Director of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, said, “Malawi deserves recognition for the political will it has shown in just one week, and that this includes backing from the very top. What’s more, it’s clear from the thousands who marched this weekend and the tens of thousands more that pledged their support online that there is global concern and support – indeed that the world is watching. Those of us on the ground are looking forward to helping translate these sentiments into effective action. We shall continue to collaborate with Government and other partners with a shared goal in mind – to protect Malawi’s elephants and stop wildlife crime.”