Parliamentary Committee commends new wildlife laws

The Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus (MPCC) and its cooperating stakeholders have hailed the amended National Parks and Wildlife Act, saying it is proving effective in the protection of Malawi’s listed, endangered and protected wildlife.

The partners involved are the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Ministry of Natural Resources, Mining and Energy, the Judiciary, Lilongwe Wildlife Trust and Malawi Police Service. MPCC hosted a case review workshop focusing on wildlife and forestry cases where these stakeholders strengthened their collaboration in the application of the new law. The meeting was aimed to engage the partners in the harmonisation of the application of the amended Wildlife Act and new sentencing guidelines.

Moves to review the Act began in 2015 following a survey by Lilongwe Wildlife Trust (LWT) which established that Malawi was a destination for wildlife poaching and trafficking of wildlife products. These illegal activities were leaving the country’s most treasured wildlife species on the brink of extinction.

“Malawi has been involved in illegal wildlife trade for many years. A lot of wildlife species in the country were poached, killed and trafficked. The country’s wildlife species had become the source of wildlife products in surrounding countries and overseas,” said Laure Barthau from LWT.

Tione-Atate Namanja, Senior State Attorney in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, attributed the situation to Malawi’s then weaker wildlife laws and the country’s porous borders. On the other hand, Malawi Police Service Deputy Inspector General for Administration, John Nyondo, blamed what he described as unpatriotic Malawians who plunder their own wildlife and harbour local and foreign poachers.

The amended National Parks and Wildlife Act, with stiffer punishment for perpetrators of wildlife crimes, was finally assented into law in February 2017, bringing a glimmer of hope for stakeholders such as the Department of National Parks and Wildlife.

“We have begun registering fewer cases of wildlife crimes, with the courts already handing out heavier fines and longer sentences to the culprits,” disclosed Alex Chunga, an official from the department.

MPCC Co-Chairman – Chitipa South Member of Parliament, Welani Chilenga – agreed with Chunga.  “The improvements this new law has already brought about cannot be overemphasized. We largely took part in the process of amendment and approval of the act. As a committee, we will continue engaging the relevant ministries to make sure that the new sentencing guidelines begin to operate along with the law as soon as possible,” Chilenga said.

Alongside species listed by CITES and the IUCN, the Act sets out the plant, mammal, bird and fish species that are considered to be listed, endangered and protected in Malawi. Plant species include Mbawa, Mlombwa, Muwanga and Muwawa trees, while mammals include African Buffalo, Impala, Spotted Hyena, Roan and Sable Antelopes, fish species such as the beautiful and sparkling Mbuna fish, and bird species include African Fish Eagle, African Hawk Eagle and many other eagles and birds. Under the new law, tampering with any of these or any other listed, endangered and protected wildlife, could lead to a fine of up to 15 million kwacha fine or 30 years imprisonment.

This article was originally published by Nyasa Times.

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