A talk on wildlife with Director of National Parks

Director of Parks and Wildlife

Natural resource degradation continues to be a threat to the social and economic development of Malawi. Human activities are, without doubt, the major contributor to the rapid declining ecosystem in the country. Deforestation, habitat loss through encroachment, over-fishing, illegal logging, poaching, illegal wildlife trade and pollution are some ways in which human activity is extensively affecting the environment.

SVTP Communications Officer Alice Kaunda speaks to the Director of Parks and Wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa about natural resources management interventions implemented with support from GEF-6 through the SVTP and the challenges with pangolin trafficking, and measures put in place to curb this malpractice and plans for the future. 

Alice Kaunda:  There are a lot of natural resource management-related interventions implemented through the SVTP. What are some key highlights of progress made? 

Brighton Kumchedwa: Through the SVTP, we have developed and launched the Access Benefit Sharing Guidelines for Malawi which will assist the country to ensure fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources. We have also developed Community Conservation Area (CCA) Guidelines for the Elephant Marsh, the first of its kind in Malawi.  The first CCA has been established around the Elephant Marsh.  

The IUCN Red List for Malawi is being updated. The List provides a classification of threatened species available in the country. 86 species of plants and animals were identified and assessed. The List was last updated in 2002.  

Management plans have been developed for Lengwe National Park, Mwabvi and Matandwe, Thambani and Thyolo Forest Reserves.  Law enforcement has been strengthened in the protected areas in collaboration with surrounding communities and capacity has been strengthened in the management of these protected areas. Roads have been graded to provide access for patrols, infrastructure is being developed and equipment has been provided.

Alice Kaunda:  Why is it important to implement natural resource management related initiatives in this project?

Brighton Kumchedwa: The SVTP is an irrigation project which seeks to transform agriculture in the Shire Valley. Natural resources cushion development against devastating impacts of climate change and natural disasters like cyclones Ana and Gombe that affected the Shire Valley this year.  

Pangolin-most trafficked mammal in the world

Alice Kaunda:  As strides are being made in natural resource management and wildlife conservation, a new challenge has risen, a shift from ivory to pangolin trafficking. Some experts say the pangolin is likely the most trafficked mammal in the world. What is the magnitude of this problem in Malawi?

Brighton Kumchedwa: Correct! There is a shift from ivory trafficking to pangolin trafficking. The pangolin is indeed a heavily trafficked mammal globally and in Malawi, this has become a common occurrence. There are 96 recorded cases of pangolin trafficking since the first case was reported in 2017. 178 people have been arrested and 117 pangolins have been rescued.

Alice Kaunda:  Why this sudden interest in trafficking and illegal pangolin trade?

Brighton Kumchedwa: Several reasons account for this situation. Pangolins are easy to conceal. Some people from the far East use pangolin meat as food while the scales are used as medicine and for manufacturing products like perfume. High levels of poverty in this country are driving some people to engage in this illegal trade.  

Alice Kaunda:  How close are pangolins to extinction?

Brighton Kumchedwa: Pangolins are difficult to count, hence there is no known pangolin population in this country. The illegal trafficking in this country may not lead to the extinction of the species because these animals are traded live so once rescued they are put back into the wild.

Alice Kaunda:  What efforts have been put in place to ensure the protection of these critically threatened wildlife species?

Brighton Kumchedwa: Knowing very well that this is a listed species according to the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Wild Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES), these endangered species need to be protected. We have intensified law enforcement at both local and regional levels. We are also conducting sensitization campaigns on pangolin conservation.  

Alice Kaunda:  What stiff penalties have been put in place to deal with perpetrators of pangolin trafficking and how many people have been arrested for pangolin-related offences?

Brighton Kumchedwa: The Wildlife Law prescribes a maximum of 30 years in jail with no option of a fine. 178 people have been arrested since 2017.

Alice Kaunda:  What policy instruments have been put in place to deal with perpetrators of pangolin trafficking and wildlife crimes in general? 

Brighton Kumchedwa: We are promoting a multi-sectoral approach to tackle the problem through an Inter-Agency Committee for Combating Wildlife Crime (IACWC). We are also working with our neighbours Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique to tackle cross border wildlife crimes at the regional level.    

Alice Kaunda:  Any advice to the general public?

Brighton Kumchedwa: According to the revised Wildlife Law in Malawi, perpetrators caught in possession of pangolins or any of their derivatives face a prison sentence of up to 30 years, with no option for a fine. The general public is, therefore, urged to desist from the pangolin trade. Instead, should report these criminals to appropriate law enforcement agencies (Police or DNPW). It is the responsibility of every Malawian to take part in the protection of this rare animal.