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Conservationists Laud Stiffer Punishments for Poachers

Earlier this week, the Chinsali Subordinate Court sentenced Jurious Sakala, a notorious poacher who was caught with 9.5 kilos of elephant ivory to seven years imprisonment with hard labour. This is just one example in the growing trend of Courts around the country handing out higher penalties, above the minimum five-year-sentences, for illegal possession of prescribed trophies like ivory.

Despite a ban on the international trade in ivory, African elephants are still being poached in large numbers, driven by a lucrative but deadly black-market trade linked to organized crime syndicates that coerce rural, unemployed, impoverished locals to get involved in poaching.

Given how destructive poaching has been to the environment, wildlife populations, local communities and the nation at large, stiffer penalties for offenders have been lauded by conservationists. Mr. Solomon Chidunuka – one of Zambia’s celebrated rangers and current Senior Warden for Muchinga Province under the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, is a front liner in the fight against poaching and understands how severe a scourge poaching can be. He is pleased that poachers and other wildlife offenders are now getting the stringent punishments they deserve.  

“Stiffer punishment is a deterrent measure to would-be offenders as it brings fear to individuals that once they are arrested and imprisoned, they leave their families suffering without any support.”

Ed Sayer, Country Director – Frankfurt Zoological Society Zambia (FZS) and Programme Manager for the North Luangwa Conservation Programme (NLCP) is also optimistic that tougher punishments for wildlife offenders will help reduce poaching incidents. “A strong deterrent to the criminals involved in commercial poaching is essential in the fight against poaching. This sends a strong message to current and would-be offenders to understand that the risks involved in poaching far outweigh the reward.”

Ed and his team at NLCP work with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife to conserve the North Luangwa ecosystem, a pristine wilderness that is home to the North Luangwa National Park.

While law enforcement agencies and local Courts ensure that convicted poachers face the wrath of law, local communities also have a role to play as they are the custodians of the natural resources, including wildlife in their area. Local communities are also the most and directly affected by effects of poaching.

Mr. Chidunuka says, “Individuals and local communities need to respect the law that protects wildlife. They must also ensure that they work with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife by reporting poaching and other illegal activities involving wildlife.”

Ed believes local communities need to develop a deeper sense of ownership of wildlife and the environment in order to participate in conservation efforts. “It is essential to recognize that the local communities living with and in wildlife areas are ultimately the best protectors of their natural resources if they have true ownership and decision-making abilities for their natural resources. Therefore, there needs to be a concurrent effort to address this through improved ownership and revenue sharing for the local communities combined with the creation of an attractive investor climate for wildlife compatible enterprises to increase employment opportunities for the local communities.”

Solomon Chidunuka

To this end, NLCP has embarked on several programs aimed at empowering local communities. One such initiative is a small-scale village savings and loans schemes that enable members to engage in conservation compatible business enterprises.

Ultimately, the responsibility to protect the country’s pristine ecosystems and the wildlife they host rests on all of us. The illegal wildlife trade negatively impacts our local communities and nation at large as poaching cartels rob us of our natural resources and cultural heritage.

The message coming out of our Courts is that poaching and trafficking in illegal wildlife products are now recognized as serious offences that will attract penalties above minimum sentences. We can all help protect our wildlife resources by not engaging in illegal activities involving wildlife, saying no to illegal wildlife products and reporting any suspicious activities involving wildlife to the Department of National Parks and Wildlife.

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