The pangolin is the world’s most trafficked mammal, and Malawi is Southern Africa’s principal transit hub for wildlife trafficking. So it was only a matter of time before a pangolin case would arise in Malawi. Last year, not one but two pangolins were rescued from traffickers in separate incidents – representing the first ever cases of pangolin trafficking in the country.
The first rescue took place in Nsanje in Southern Malawi, where the two Mozambican men, Martinyo Alberto and Pauline Felish Nyanji, had smuggled the animal across the border. Fortunately, the animal was able to be released into Liwonde National park, whilst the men faced charges of prohibited entry into Malawi and possession of a specimen of listed species. On November 23, 2017 the men were found guilty of both charges and sentenced to 7 years in prison.
Soon after the first incident, a second pangolin was rescued in the capital of Lilongwe. The animal had similarly been transported across the Mozambican border and, after passing through the Wildlife Centre for a quick health check, it was also released into Liwonde. The two traffickers, Habarawo Jyaime of Mozambique and Joseph Mankokwe Banda of Malawi, were sentenced to five years each behind bars on November 21, 2017. As these were the first pangolin cases the courts have had to process in Malawi, with the majority of trafficking cases focusing on ivory, this was a great achievement.
Pangolins are critically endangered across both their African and Asian ranges, due to a demand in China for their use in medicine and culinary dishes. As these cases have been treated so seriously, there is hope they will act as deterrents to future traffickers and Malawi will no longer be seen as an ‘easy’ trafficking target.