LILONGWE, Malawi (AFP) — A Malawi court on Monday jailed seven Chinese nationals and two Malawians for illegal possession of ivory, rhino horns and pangolin scales.
The convicts are members of the Lin-Zhang syndicate, believed to be one of southern Africa’s most active wildlife trafficking gangs.
Nine Chinese nationals and four Malawians were arrested in May 2019 following a series of coordinated raids by the police and wildlife department.
The syndicate’s kingpin Yunhua Lin was arrested in August after a three-month manhunt.
On Monday, a magistrate’s court in the capital Lilongwe handed down verdicts for nine of the 14 detainees.
Lin and his wife Quin Hua Zhang were jailed for 11 years for the illicit possession of rhino horn and firearms.
Two other Chinese nationals were handed seven-year jail sentences for hoarding rhino horn, while the remaining three were slapped with six-year terms for possessing pangolin scales and worked ivory.
Malawians Cosmas Sakugwa and Steven Daza received 18-month sentences for the illegal possession of ivory and hippo teeth.
All have denied the charges.
Malawi’s director of parks and wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa hailed the convictions.
“Malawi is no longer a playground for these wildlife criminals,” he told AFP after the verdict.
Poaching has decimated the world elephant population, which slumped in Africa from several million at the turn of the 19th century to around 400,000 in 2015.
According to conservation group WWF, as much as 60 percent of all elephant deaths can be blamed on poaching.
There is a huge demand in Asia for elephant tusks, rhino horns and other animal parts for their purported medicinal properties.
Authorities believe Lin-Zhang has been operating in Malawi — a landlocked southeast African country surrounded by Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia — for at least a decade.