Malawi jails nine wildlife trafficking gang members

Scales of pangolins are spread on a table form a blue and pink bag
Scales of pangolins Chinese customs officials seized on a ship in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China November 29, 2017, photo: Reuters/Stringer

A Malawi court on Monday jailed seven Chinese nationals and two Malawians for illegal possession of ivory, rhino horns and pangolin scales.

The convicts are members of one of southern Africa’s most active wildlife trafficking gangs. Authorities believe they had been operating in Malawi for at least a decade. They’re responsible for the deaths of countless elephants, rhinos and pangolins.

The gang members were arrested in May 2019 following a series of coordinated raids by the police and wildlife department. The leader of the gang was arrested in August after a three-month manhunt. 

The leader and his wife were jailed for 11 years for the illicit possession of rhino horns and firearms. Two others were handed seven-year jail sentences for hoarding rhino horns, while the remaining three got six-years for possessing pangolin scales and worked ivory.

The two Malawians received 18-month sentences for the illegal possession of ivory and hippo teeth. All have denied the charges.

Malawi no longer a playground for wildlife criminals
Malawi’s director of parks and wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa hailed the convictions. “Malawi is no longer a playground for these wildlife criminals,” he told AFP after the verdict.

Poaching has destroyed the elephant population in Africa. At the beginning of the 19th century, there were millions of elephants on the continent. In 2015, only 400,000 were left.

According to the conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF), as much as 60 percent of all elephant deaths can be blamed on poaching. 

There is a huge demand in Asia for elephant tusks, rhino horns and other animal parts.

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