Poaching Pressure Hits Liwonde National Park

The ranger (middle) was injured in the line of duty The ranger (middle) was injured in the line of duty - pic courtesy of Liwonde National Park

Liwonde National Park is gradually becoming under siege. Aggression of poachers on wildlife and game rangers is increasing.

Two major poaching incidents were recorded there in a space of four weeks.

On November, 16, 2022, a suspected water poisoning at a waterhole near Mwalasi river was registered which killed 18 African wild dogs also known as Lycaon Pictus.

Preliminary findings indicated that some of the dogs had died in the river bed and been deliberately dragged away and hidden.

The carcasses were all in an advanced stage of decomposition, making identification of the animals challenging.

There appeared to be no missing parts from the dogs which suggests that the poisoner had not intended to kill the dogs.

There is this other thought. The water poisoning was actually targeting birds in the park but the dogs were affected, with poachers deciding to hide the carcasses and collars in an attempt to avert detection.

To prevent scavengers from feeding on them, authorities had to burn the carcasses under a pile of dry bush and wood.

Some of the killed dogs were among the 14 African wild dogs that were translocated from South Africa and Mozambique to the park in July last year in an effort to reintroduce the endangered species to Malawi. The wild dog is one of Africa’s most endangered mammals with approximately 6, 600 left in the wild.

Park Manager Dave Robertson says they sent the poison samples to the veterinary laboratory in Lilongwe and some in South Africa.

“We are just waiting for the results. We are currently facing the poaching pressure where poachers are targeting to kill the wildlife for meat,” said Robertson.

He added that poaching is threatening the wildlife and tourism sector saying such trends are dangerous.

That aside, on December 14, 2022 another horrible incident occurred at the park.

A game ranger was attacked by the poachers during their routine patrols.

The ranger sustained a deep cut on the hand, the palm part after blocking a spear that targeted his chest.

Head of Law Enforcement for Liwonde National Park, Mike Polera said it was worrisome that attacks of poachers on rangers have escalated, with two rangers killed this year alone and several others sustaining serious injuries from the life-threatening weapons.

Statistics also indicate that the park is losing four wild animals every month due to poaching.

Senior Chief Chowe is worried about the current poaching situation in Liwonde national park. He says they are currently strengthening the village natural resources committee to protect wildlife.

“We are concerned that despite sensitizing people to protect the animals, some evil-minded villagers are still breaking the fence and entering the park to poach. This is retrogressive considering that these animals attract tourists and generate financial resources for the country,” said Senior Chief Chowe.

He further stated that they will also work with the park authorities amid reports that some game rangers connive with poachers to kill the animals.

“I know that there is no clear evidence on this but people have been implicating some game rangers so we have to talk and work with them to stop this,” explained the senior chief.

Wildlife activist Dorothy Tembo says although there is notable progress on law enforcement against poachers, the killing of 18 African dogs at one goal at Liwonde national park was a huge loss to the country.

“We should all hold hands to support law enforcement against these poachers,” said Tembo.

Department of Parks and Wildlife Director, Brighton Kumchedwa says despite some poaching incidents in African parks managed protected areas like Liwonde national park and Majete wildlife reserve, Malawi has generally registered low poaching cases in 2022.

The Director said they effected 60 arrests this year against 80 last year, with 110 people arrested in 2022 compared to 116 last year.

“Generally, the poaching situation has reduced this year due to intensification of law enforcement. When we look at Ivory cases for example, last year we recorded 25 while this year we had only 18 and on seizures we had 373 last year and 372 this year.

“On Pangolins, 46 Pangolins were recovered last year while 33 were recovered this year, 38 cases last year against 28,  72 arrests last year and 64 this year,” said Kumchedwa, adding that the general decrease means that they are on top of things in the country.

He however said he will engage African parks to discuss how they can deal with poaching in parks which they are managing.

The key environmental Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for wildlife ranching is SDG 15 which aims to: “Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.”

The short title for SDG 15 is ‘Life on Land.’ The goal’s aim is clearly to protect, restore and promote the sustainable use of living natural resources and their habitats. Protection includes managing forests and other terrestrial ecosystems sustainably.

Further, SDG 15 includes 12 targets, most of which are directly relevant to wildlife ranches or protected areas. These targets can be used in a ranch’s management plans.

They can also be used to communicate with investors, neighbouring communities and regulatory authorities about ranches or national parks and game reserves’ contribution to sustainable development.

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