This week, the world’s poorest country will make the world’s most expensive bonfire. Malawi has announced it will burn its £5m ivory stockpile on Thursday, to demonstrate its commitment to wildlife conservation and the fight against wildlife crime.
Almost four tons of ivory is held in Malawi’s stockpile, and it is going to burn the lot. This will be done at the parliament building, and the march to the incineration will be led by the president, Peter Mutharika, wearing a polo shirt bearing the message, ‘Stop Wildlife Crime’.
The plan follows the burning in Ethiopia earlier this month of six tons of tusks and carved ivory. There are reports that Kenya will burn a further 15 tons in the coming week. But according to the Environmental Investigation Agency, the Malawi burning is the most remarkable. Malawi has been hammered by a devastating corruption scandal, nicknamed Cashgate, in which around £35m was believed to have been taken out of government funds. Earlier this year, flooding killed nearly 300 people and made 230,000 homeless.
“It is really inspiring that the Malawi government is prepared to make wildlife conservation a priority in these difficult times,” said Jonny Vaughan, general manager of the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, which has played a significant part in campaigning against the ivory trade. But this is more than a national issue. Malawi also functions as an entrepot, lying between three major elephant populations in hotpots for poaching: the Luangwa Valley in Zambia, Selous in Tanzania and Niassa in Mozambique. This is part of an international illegal business worth billions, and even sober estimates suggest it is killing 20,000 elephants a year.
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Image: An ivory stockpile © EIA