Exposed Ivory in the trackLWT witnessed the destruction of 2.6 tonnes of ivory today – that’s equivalent to around 390 poached elephants.  This came about as a result of a court order from the Mzuzu case, and is not the hotly debated disposal of the 4+ tonne Government stockpile.  Confused?  Here’s some clarification:

What is ‘the Mzuzu case’?

In 2013, two ivory traffickers, Patrick and Chauncy Kaunda, were intercepted in Mzuzu by the Malawi Revenue Authority with 781 tusks hidden under cargo at the bottom of a container (right). On 28th July 2015, the High Court in Mzuzu found the Kaundas guilty of money laundering and possessing ivory, fined them MK2.5 million/$5,000 each or a 7 year prison sentence, and ordered the destruction of the contraband ivory.

Ivory destruction aside, what is LWT’s opinion on the sentencing of the Mzuzu case?

Very disappointing.  It reinforces the opinion that Malawi is a soft target for wildlife criminals.  The traffickers chose to pay the fine, in cash that day, and then walked free.  The sentencing does not reflect the gravity of the crime, and pales in comparison to sentencing in other countries.  For example, Tanzania just sentenced 8 people to 20 years each in prison plus a total fine of $21,000 for leading organised crime and the illegal possession of 306 kg of ivory.

However, there is cause for optimism here in Malawi:
1. A move towards custodial sentences: In February 2016, just 6 months later (in Mzuzu, albeit a different court), two more brothers who were caught in possession of ivory (in this case just 8kg) were sentenced to 4 ½ years and 2 ½ years in prison and given no choice of a fine.
2. Changes to wildlife legislation: Following last year’s IWT review Malawi Government have prioritised amendments to the National Parks & Wildlife Act, in particular on strengthening penalties so that stiffer sentences can be passed. The amendment bill is currently under review (LWT sits on the technical committee) and we are hopeful that the bill will be passed in Parliament in June.

Back to today’s burn: why was the first court order to destroy the ivory postponed at the last minute?

The ivory in question has been traced to Tanzania and Mozambique and was in transit from Tanzania to Malawi’s capital of Lilongwe. The initial court deadline for the destruction of 18th September 2015 was extended on the application of Tanzanian Principle State Attorney, Faraagathon Nchimbi.  The time was sought to allow the Government of Tanzania to use the seized ivory in a criminal case in Dar Es Salaam thought to be related to the seized ivory.

Why did it go ahead today? 

In his Order of 2 March 2016, Judge Madise said “Being a good neighbour, I granted the order for a stay of 90 days and stopped the burning of the ivory at the 11th hour.  As of today, I have not been approached to extend the period any further… I now order the Government of Malawi through the Director of National Parks and Wildlife to destroy the 781 pieces of ivory through fire at a public place within Malawi in full view of the public on 14 March 2016.”

What is the difference between this ivory and the ivory stockpile held by the Government? 

A picture made available on 2 April 2015 shows a pile of illegal ivory in the parliament, Lilongwe, Malawi 2 April 2015. The Malawi government singled onto the Kasane Statement on the Illegal Wildlife Trade last week, while many other SADCs counties request their rights to sell these ivory stockpiles. EPA/ERICO WAGAThe ivory destroyed today was from the specific case discussed above. As of the last inventory, the main stockpile (excluding this 2.6 tonnes)  was ca. 4.1 tonnes of ivory and is being  held separately by the Government.  The vast majority has been confiscated from poachers and traffickers with a tiny fraction of Malawi’s stockpile originating from natural deaths/problem animal control.

What is happening to the Government-held ivory stockpile?

Malawi had planned to destroy its own stockpiles in April 2015 but the event was postponed at the last minute, the reason cited being the need for the inclusion of the 2.6 tonnes of ivory being held as part of the Mzuzu 2013 case. The topic has been hotly debated and a new date for its disposal is yet to be set.

What is the rationale for the destruction of ivory stockpiles?

  • Stops leakages into the illegal ivory markets: these are the markets fuelling the elephant poaching crisis. In recent years there have been leakages of ivory from government stockpiles in several countries into the black market showing that maintaining stockpiles is an inducement for corruption.
  • No security costs: Maintaining a strong room, and security personnel to protect a nation’s stockpile is costly and diverts critical resources within the Wildlife Department away from protecting live elephants and other wildlife.
  • Avoid international embarrassment: Stockpiles are both a target for theft and an inducement to corruption, and their disposal would avoid the risk of embarrassment of such misappropriation.
  • Send a message of zero tolerance on wildlife crime and that ivory is not for trade: Malawi is currently seen as a soft target for wildlife criminals. It is being exploited as a transit route and distribution hub for illicit ivory.

Ivory destruction is just one decisive measure that the Government can take to show their might and resolve in fighting wildlife crime. 14 countries in the last 2 years alone have crushed or burnt ivory, including Mozambique, Kenya, Ethiopia and China.  Kenya is burning its entire 120 tonne stockpile in April.

Why doesn’t Malawi just sell it?

Malawi can’t sell its ivory stockpile because it is forbidden by international law, and there is also a Government imposed moratorium on domestic trade of ivory in Malawi.  Read more here.

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