A Malawian court sentenced members of a trafficking ring to a total of 56 years in prison for selling wildlife parts.
The nine convicted traffickers were part of the Lin-Zhang crime syndicate and included seven Chinese nationals. Officials arrested the kingpin, Yunhua Lin, in August 2020 after a three-month manhunt. The court found them guilty of trafficking animal parts such as pangolin scales, rhino horn, ivory and hippo teeth.
Malawian Director of Parks and Wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa hailed the convictions. “Malawi is no longer a playground for these wildlife criminals,” he said after the verdict.
Authorities believe Lin-Zhang has been operating in Malawi for at least a decade. Poaching has decimated the world elephant population, which slumped in Africa from several million at the turn of the 19th century to about 400,000 in 2015. Up to 60% of all elephant deaths can be blamed on poaching, according to conservation group World Wildlife Fund.
There is a huge demand in Asia for elephant tusks, rhino horns and other animal parts for ornaments and their purported medicinal properties.
International environmental groups lauded Malawi for its commitment to taking down trafficking rings. Malawi arrested 14 members of the syndicate in 2019 and, as of August 2020, one still was awaiting trial, Nyasa Times reported.
“Following years of concerted efforts and overcoming countless obstacles, this small nation has demonstrated how, with political will and determination, to dismantle one of Africa’s most prolific organized international crime syndicates,” said Mary Rice, executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency.
Rice hopes other countries follow Malawi’s example. “Fighting crime on this scale demands sophistication, collaboration, courage and tenacity,” she said. “Malawi should be immensely proud — and other African countries currently battling the scourge of illegal wildlife trade would do well to follow this example of global leadership.”