March 5, 2018

Fighting Poachers, Saving Wildlife, and Sowing the Seeds for Economic Growth

By Matthew Wright

Deep in the border brushlands shared by Malawi and Zambia, yet another ivory poacher is in handcuffs. A team of park rangers has been tracking this particular poaching syndicate for weeks. His crime? Slaughtering a 40-year-old bull elephant to sell its ivory for tens of thousands of dollars on the black market.

This is just the latest in hundreds of wildlife crime arrests made by coordinated law enforcement operations along the Malawi-Zambia border. The secret to this success is the crucial training and support these operations receive from the International Fund for Animal Welfare supported by U.S. development agency USAID, and IFAW’s crucial partnership with the respective governments of Malawi and Zambia.

With the help of USAID, IFAW and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) have significantly reduced the number of elephants poached each month in the Malawi-Zambia region. The more than 200 wildlife crime-related arrests in the area are the result of ranger training and capacity building, teaching new enforcement techniques, and ensuring rangers can operate effectively by providing them with the equipment and uniforms they need. Best of all, animal populations in conservation areas like the vast Kasungu National Parks in Malawi are finally rising again after being almost completely wiped out.

This isn’t just a win for endangered animals. Ending wildlife crime is as much an issue of human development as it is of animal welfare. Cracking down on poaching and illegal animal products stabilizes regions, keeping millions of dollars of black market ivory out of the hands of criminal groups. Saving these animals also preserves unique ecosystems, a boon for tourism, which in turn creates huge opportunities for local economies. In short, the fight to end wildlife crime is also a win-win: people are safer and economies are stronger.

It’s no wonder, then, that organizations like IFAW, in partnership with USAID and the State Department, have been actively involved in programs to capture poachers, strengthen anti-poaching laws, and reduce demand for illegal animal products. Both USAID and IFAW have coordinated to educate the public about the cruelty of illegal wildlife trafficking and the products that it peddles. Additionally, IFAW works globally with customs officers to train these enforcement agencies to identify smuggled animal products at the border, shattering the connection between suppliers and buyers.

IFAW and USAID’s complementary work to stop animal trafficking and create strong, sustainable local economies reinforces how closely development is tied to other disciplines. As U.S. global development programs face brutal new budget cuts, including reductions of well over 30 percent for all assistance to Malawi, America risks turning back the clock on the progress that’s been made in reducing criminal activity in developing regions everywhere. Positive change for everyone, people and animals alike, comes from using all of the tools at our disposal—we don’t need to be elephants to remember that.