As scientists predict a mass extinction and the destruction of the natural world that humanity relies upon for survival, local campaigners are calling for conservation to be pushed to the top of Malawi’s agenda.
According to a report published by WWF and Zoological Society of London last week, there has been a 58% decline in global wildlife populations since 1970, a figure which is predicted to rise to 67% by 2020, representing a rate of natural ecosystem degradation unprecedented in human history.
Jonathan Vaughan, Director of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, said, “Whilst there is currently no specific data available for Malawi’s own wildlife populations, there is every indication that the trend is the same. Given that these catastrophic declines are due to human activities like wildlife crime and habitat loss, there is still some hope to reverse the trend if urgent action is taken.”
Habitat loss poses the greatest threat to wildlife survival and Malawi suffers from the highest rate of deforestation in the SADC region. The second biggest threat, and the biggest threat to endangered species, is illegal wildlife trade.
The black market trade in bushmeat has substantially impacted Malawi’s mammal populations such as duiker and bushbuck, and half of the country’s elephants have been lost since the 1980’s due to poaching for ivory.
Malawi was also named as a ‘country of primary concern’ for its role as a major transit hub in the illegal ivory trade in a recent report published by TRAFFIC and ETIS (Elephant Trade Information System), alongside Togo, Malaysia and Singapore.
Malawi Government has responded with several initiatives including the country’s first specialised multi-agency Wildlife Crime Investigations Unit. 60 arrests for wildlife trafficking have been made since June, 16 of whom have been sent to prison for up to 14 years.
The Amendment Bill for the National Parks and Wildlife Act is expected to come to Parliament in November which will further strengthen penalties and act as a deterrent for would-be wildlife criminals.
Vaughan added, “The government’s progressive work in combatting illegal wildlife trade is very encouraging and we hope to see other conservation challenges similarly prioritised. However we all have a role to play in protecting Malawi’s wildlife and natural heritage and we are also urging individuals to make considered decisions, whether it is reporting wildlife crime or choosing not to buy charcoal.”
Welani Chilenga, Chair of the Natural Resource Committee and co-chair of the Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus agreed, saying, “I look forward to next month’s Parliament sitting where a number of environmental issues will be discussed, and I urge my fellow parliamentarians to take heed of these alarming figures. Agriculture and human health, and in fact Malawi‘s very prosperity, relies on healthy ecosystems and biodiversity and we must do all we can to ensure sustainable use of our natural resources, or allow the devastation to continue unabated and suffer the consequences.”