This blog was filed by Shannon Labuschagne from the field in Kasungu National Park in Malawi.
When IFAW’s law enforcement capacity-building team, led by Mike Labuschagne, first arrived in Kasungu National Park in December 2015, they were shocked to discover the rate at which the park had been ravaged by poaching. The decline in elephant, buffalo and other wildlife populations was appalling.
READ: Working in Kasungu will bring it back to its glory days
It was difficult to determine the effect this massacre had on the more elusive cats in the park, however, the IFAW-sponsored Wildlife Crimes Investigations Unit (WCIU) has exposed the terrible cruelty done to leopards.
Earlier this year, the WCIU uncovered the skins of two Kasungu leopards. A fully-grown male as well as a young female were poached within the park. Without even addressing the pain and cruelty imposed on these cats, the tragedy is incalculable. The female was not yet mature enough to have given birth, but if her young lifespan hadn’t been so cruelly cut short she would have likely raised between seven and twenty-one cubs.
Raphael Chiwindo, one of IFAW’s most skilled investigators, discovered in an undercover operation exactly how these remarkable animals are slaughtered. Poachers told Chiwindo that it begins with finding a sign of leopard. This could be scat, paw prints or claw marks. The leopard’s tracks are traced. Eventually a tree that the cat regularly visits is found. The poachers kill a prey animal in the park, poison the meat and place it in the tree.
They move on, knowing that when they circle back, a dead leopard will be awaiting them.
Our Wildlife Crimes Investigations Unit (WCIU) has recovered the skins of twelve leopards over the past seven months. It is unlikely that this unit has uncovered more than 1 percent of this regional trade. This extrapolates to over 1,000 poached leopards slaughtered to fuel the cruel, illegal trade in leopard skins.
Chiza Ngoni, another IFAW trained and sponsored agent, has shown the link between the trade of leopard skins and that of other wildlife products such as ivory. One of our July 2016 investigations recovered leopard skins and ivory together, in the same suitcase (the perpetrator was jailed for five years after a successful prosecution).
Clifford Mwale, a team leader in the IFAW-trained and sponsored Kasungu Commando Unit said, “I have been in Kasungu for many years, but I can see things changing for the better since IFAW’s help has arrived. Last month, I saw two young leopard cubs playing with their mother close to Lifupa dam, which is in the middle of Kasungu National Park. These leopard cubs have a good chance of survival thanks to IFAW’s support.”
If we are to save these magnificent cats from local extinction, immediate action is needed. Our rangers need support to continue their patrols and intercept poachers before they kill these beautiful leopards. Equally as important, our Wildlife Crimes Investigations Unit must hunt down those who have committed such crimes and bring them to justice. Time is running out for the region’s leopards.
Article source: IFAW