Notorious ivory trafficker, Winston Humba, was yesterday sentenced to 7 years behind bars by the Malawi courts. The 38-year-old from Ntcheu, Malawi, was arrested by police at his ivory ‘factory’ on 26th December 2016, where heavy duty machinery was being used to process raw ivory into smaller pieces for easier air transport to addresses in Thailand and Malaysia. 126 kg of offcuts were found littering the floor, reportedly the leftovers from a larger 475kg consignment that was illegally transported from Zambia. Humba has been implicated in several other wildlife trafficking crimes in recent years.
Hon Chilenga, Chair of the Natural Research Committee and co-chair of the Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus, said, “The fact that an ivory ‘factory’ of this scale could be operating within our capital city is outrageous. Here is the evidence that Malawi is facing more than a bunch of poachers acting independently, but instead organized criminal gangs working across countries’ borders. Congratulations to the authorities involved in this case and we urge you to continue your diligence. These criminal networks must be disrupted for the sake of the survival of some of Africa’s most iconic species.”
Humba had originally pleaded not guilty in January to both charges of two counts of possession and dealing in ivory, contrary to Sections 86(1) and 91(1) of the National Parks & Wildlife Act respectively. He created some drama in court, however when he changed his plea to guilty on one count of dealing in ivory, but maintained his plea of not guilty on the first count of possession, despite the presiding magistrate’s reasoning with him that one had to possess the item before dealing in it. However, when he gave his defence statement in court on 2nd October, 2017 he admitted taking 2 Kg raw ivory from his home to his mother’s residence, and that the ivory processing machinery which was tendered in court as exhibit was taken from his home.
A further four men arrested between 22nd and 26th December, 2016, in connection with the ivory factory, have also been convicted. In March 2017, Godfrey Kaludzi was sentenced to 4 years in prison with hard labour for the illegal possession of the 126 Kg ivory. In September 2017, the court found Golden Bakili, Mussa Malopa and Samuel Chiweta guilty of dealing in ivory, and each was convicted and sentenced to 4 years imprisonment with hard labour.
Malawi is Southern Africa’s principal transit hub for organized criminal syndicates trafficking illicit wildlife products to primarily Asian markets such as China. Before 2014, Malawi was seen as a ‘soft target’ for wildlife criminals, with low interception and conviction rates and an average sentence of just $40 for ivory trafficking. Today wildlife criminals can expect to find themselves behind bars and the new National Parks & Wildlife Act, which came into force in February 2017, after the arrest of Humba, which now gives courts the powers to pass custodial sentences of up to 30 years.
The case was made possible with support from the Wildcat Foundation, Olsen Animal Trust, ECF and Stop Ivory.