Malawi NGOs happy with vote to end domestic ivory trade

With African elephant numbers down by an estimated 30% since 2007 due to poaching, nations urged decisive action this weekend with support for a motion to close all domestic ivory markets around the world.

Impounded ivory in Malawi

Impounded ivory in Malawi

The move came at the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Congress held in Hawaii, US, and was backed by a majority of state and NGO members, including all organisations represented from Malawi.

This was despite opposition from South Africa, Namibia and Japan who argued that domestic markets should instead be better regulated.

Speaking on behalf of both Lilongwe Wildlife Trust and WESM, Victor Mangochi said, “Illegal ivory is known to be laundered into legal markets and tighter regulation is simply not feasible given the nature and scale of the crisis.

” The message needs to be clear – that ivory is not for trade – and that’s exactly what we have heard from both the world’s governments and the international conservation community this weekend.”

International ivory trade has been banned since 1989, given the fact that the unprecedented increase in elephant poaching has been driven by demand for ivory, and an increasing number of countries are moving to stop all trade within their borders too.

The US and China agreed to stop domestic ivory trade last year, and Malawi’s own domestic moratorium has been in place since 2014.

According to a recent report published by TRAFFIC and ETIS (Elephant Trade Information System), Malawi was named as a ‘country of primary concern’ for its role as a major transit hub in the illegal ivory trade, alongside Togo, Malaysia and Singapore. Malawi therefore must not only tackle the poachers targeting its shrinking elephant populations, but also the organised crime syndicates trafficking ivory in from neighbouring nations and out to countries like China and Japan where ivory products are popular.

Closing all domestic markets in ivory would not only help to reduce demand but also remove the grey area between legal and illegal markets which is exploited by criminals to launder illicit ivory.

The IUCN does not regulate the ivory trade, but it is hoped that the resolution will drive nations to commit to a worldwide ban at the CITES CoP (Convention for the Illegal Trade in Endangered Species Conference of Parties) which will take place later this month in Johannesburg.

Hon. Chilenga, Chair of the Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus, said, “We are most encouraged by the resolutions passed at the IUCN Congress and we look forward to hearing the outcome of the CITES CoP to hear more on how Malawi can work together with the international community to combat what is nothing short of a wildlife crisis.”

Political will to fight illegal wildlife trade in Malawi is high and, in partnership with NGO’s and its development partners, new government initiatives are starting to reap results.

Since the launch of the country’s first Wildlife Crime Investigations Unit (WCIU) in April, for instance, there have been 38 arrests for ivory trafficking which have so far translated into 11 custodial sentences of up to 13 years, in comparison to an average fine of just $40 between 2010 and 2014.

Figures just published from the Great Elephant Census estimated that Africa’s elephant populations are declining at a rate of 8% per year overall, equating to a total of 30% between 2007 and 2014 where 144,000 elephants lost in 15 African countries

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