Pangolins are one of the living species which are endangered. However both local and International environmental groups and government of Malawi have been slow to fund pangolin research and rescue interventions. Considering all eight species of pangolin found in Malawi are considered vulnerable to extinction, two of our members namely Mtende Foundation and the Youth for Change and Development (CYD) are tirelessly working on sensitising the masses on the unfortunate rapid declining of pangolins due to their excessive demand for scales from the illegal traders.
Working under their program, ‘Increase Community Awareness Against Illegal Smuggling of Pangolins’ CYD’s Executive Director, Joel Sibale said the intervention is currently targeting youth in rural parts of the Mzuzu city and Mzimba District.
“We are advocating against the illegal smugging of pangolin species because the malpractice has landed youths in trouble, marriages have broken, women and children left destitute,” Sibale said. However, Malawi as the country boasts of registering a drop in ordinary wildlife crimes, such as trafficking in elephant tusks and rhino horns but the Wildlife Authorities say pangolin-related arrests have tripled between 2019 and 2021.
Police say a month rarely passes with no pangolin-related arrest sending fear this may lead to extinction of the endangered mammals with the latest arrest being of five people in southern Lakeshore district of Mangochi, who were found selling a live pangolin.
“The four suspects are Malawians while their accomplice is a well-known businessman from Pakistan,” said Ameena Tepani Daudi, who speaks for the police in the district. Brighton Kumchedwa, the director of Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife, says the increase number in pangolin trafficking cases is not surprising, considering recent research estimating that global pangolin populations have declined by 80% in the last 20 years.
“For Malawi, we can speculate that a shift from ivory trafficking to pangolin is because, one, the size of a pangolin is so small, easy to conceal but also it is fetching a reasonable amount of money on a black market. But also the existence in the country of foreign nationals that eat pangolins as delicacy, but also use of scales in medicine, that’s why there has been an increase in pangolin trafficking,” he said. Kumchedwa further says, the arrest of a Pakistani and Chinese nationals in connection with pangolin trafficking confirms that the presence of some foreign nationals, particularly from Asia is fueling trafficking in pangolin.
However, Kumchdewa says strategies are being put in place to prevent possible extinction of the endangered mammals in Malawi and these include stiffer penalties to perpetrators.According to the revised anti-wildlife-trafficking law in Malawi, perpetrators caught in possession of live pangolins or any of their derivatives face a prison sentence of up to 30 years, with no option for a fine.“But also we have our own investigation unit, which is helping quite a lot, because it is largely intelligence-led law enforcement. But also, more than that, is how the courts have indeed applied the law.
They are giving custodial sentences. We are seeing people taken to jail for seven years, five years found in possession of a pangolin,” he said.Kumchedwa expressed need for Malawians to be more nationalistic and help the government by reporting to authorities about people involved in illegal pangolin trade, as well as in other protected animals.
It was sad to note that two of the convicted prersons in Mangochi district late last year, Jimmy Mkwezalamba (38) and Julius Sanudia (36) were not first offenders in wildlife related crimes and both of them pleaded being part of one of Africa’s largest transnational wildlife trafficking syndicates.The suspected kingpin of the trafficking network, a Chinese national, Yunhua Lin (46) was also has reportedly been linked to a range of wildlife crimes including the possession and smuggling of processed elephant ivory, 103 pieces of rhino horns, two hippo teeth, 556 pangolin scales and three live pangolins, had been on the run following the arrests in May that included his wife, Qin Hua Zhang.
Zhang and eight others with connections to the syndicate were in Court throughout september last year (2021) for hearings and were subsequently handed stiff jail sentences.
“I am delighted to see the Malawian Government making every effort to bring to justice those responsible for trafficking illegal wildlife goods,” Mary Rice, executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency, said in a statement.
Meanwhile numbers are still astounding considering the rate at which poachers have declared an imaginary war that is fast leading to the extinction of these endangered wildlife species. According to Annamiticus, an advocacy group, by the most conservative estimates, 10,000 pangolins are trafficked illegally each year, assuming only 10% to 20% of the actual trade being reported by the news media, the true number trafficked over a two-year period was 116,990 to 233,980.