By Kondwani Magombo
Lilongwe — Malawi Government in conjunction with the country's law enforcement agencies will soon form a task force aimed at combating the growing wildlife crime in the country.
The development followed a meeting government, through the Ministry of Tourism and Culture held on Monday in Lilongwe with stakeholders to chart the way forward in the fight against wildlife crime in the country.
The agencies government engaged included the Judiciary, Malawi Police Service (MPS), Malawi Defence Force (MDF), Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), the Anti-Corruption Bureau Lilongwe, Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (LSPCA), and the Department of Wildlife and Parks and the Immigration Department.
In her keynote opening address, Principal Secretary (PS) for the Ministry of Tourism, Elsie Tembo, said the population of the country's flagship species such as elephants and rhinos had been in a state of decline or locally extinct, hence the need for government and its partners to step up efforts in fighting wildlife crime.
"Tourism industry in Malawi cannot do without the complete set of the Big Five," observed the PS, adding, "We are meeting to kick-start a sustainable inter-agency collaboration and networking cognizant of the fact that cooperation has existed."
She said government hoped to start the inter-agency collaboration locally before going regional and then global.
Tembo noted that over the years, the population of elephants in Malawi had decreased from around 4,000 to fewer than 2,000 with Liwonde National Park having the highest population of around 800 elephants.
She further observed that in the 80s, Kasungu National Park used to habour more than 2,000 elephants but she noted that recently the population had declined to about 200 due to commercial and consumptive poaching.
The PS said with poaching and illegal wildlife trade becoming more intense, organized and sophisticated, enforcement agencies locally and globally needed to work more closely for them to be able to bust crime syndicates and even net kingpins who remain largely obscure and almost unreachable.
"We should now be looking forward to an active, broader and encompassing enforcement local network of law enforcement agencies," explained Tembo.
Between 2011 and 2014, twenty-three arrests were made at Kamuzu International Airport alone, with 69 pieces of ivory confiscated, while in May 2013, MRA intercepted 781 pieces of ivory (2.6 tonnes) that originated from Tanzania and Malawi was used as a conduit.
Another wildlife crime currently worrying government is the massive smuggling of water turtles from Lake Malawi to South-East Asia, where they are consumed as a delicacy, according to PS Tembo.
The meeting resolved to form a taskforce at another meeting tentatively scheduled for April 16. The taskforce would co-ordinate the efforts of all the enforcement agencies in the fight against wildlife crime across the country. LSPCA and the Royal Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (RSPCA) are the financiers of the stakeholder meetings.