seized ivoryPublished in the Maravi Post:

A Gambian man was arrested yesterday by the Malawian Police Services in connection with the seizure of 330kg of ivory in Thailand in March earlier this year.

Madi Conteh, 34, is the main suspect and the seventh person to be arrested in connection with the case.  He is also listed on the Interpol Red Notice List for crimes against the environment.

The ivory in question – equivalent to over 200 elephants – had been shipped on an Ethiopian Airways flight from Kamuzu International Airport, Lilongwe, via Addis Ababa to Bangkok. A Gambian man was arrested by Thai authorities as he went to collect the packages.

That Malawi Police Service are continuing their investigations in partnership with the Department of National Parks & Wildlife with support from local and international organizations such as the Wildcat Foundation and Olsen Animal Trust.

“This case illustrates Malawi’s position as a regional trafficking hub for illicit wildlife trade, but it also shows that these international syndicates can no longer operate here with relative impunity,” said Tommy Mhango from local NGO, Lilongwe Wildlife Trust.  “The authorities are taking wildlife crime seriously, and perpetrators can expect to be caught and prosecuted with the full weight of the law.”

Between 2010 and 2015, rates of arrests in Malawi were less than one per month and convictions carried an average sentence of just $40. However, new initiatives introduced to tackle poor law enforcement, lack of awareness and weak legislation are have tipped the balance in favour of the authorities.

Last year, monthly arrests increased 11-fold and average sentences moved to 4 years in prison with no option of a fine.  The new Wildlife Act, passed in February this year, has increased maximum sentences to 30 years behind bars and will no doubt further deter wildlife criminals from operating within Malawi’s borders.