Within only the last 3 months it appears that Chinese animal traffickers have put out orders for as many turtles as can be netted. Mature egg-bearing females who should be laying on the beaches, are instead being netted in the shallows. This sudden and massive slaughter of Zambezi flap-shelled Turtles (Cycloderma frenatum) has been recently discovered (Nov 2013) on the shores of Lake Malawi.
A video circulating online and available on Youtube was made to alert the wider public to this issue and encourage Malawi and its neighbours to prosecute to the full extent of the law these networks of Chinese operators. Raiding the local butcheries, will not Stop this practice- only breaking the international gang network that are presently allowed to operate this business.
These turtles have legislation to protect them, despite their inappropriately low CITES ranking. Malawi could enforce large fines, confiscation of equipment and prison sentences etc. However, the local Chinese man who seems to have helped the local people establish this butchery, and provided the associated technical advice has already been arrested but was swiftly released and has since been expanding his business.
Turtle has been found well-advertised on the menu in the Capital’s largest Chinese Hotel, pick-ups owned by The China Road & Bridge Corporation are involved at local level, but the larger transport system we have yet to discover. Is this just a small part of a much larger wildlife crime syndicate?
Alongside the swift decline in local turtle populations, our research has unearthed anecdotal evidence of a much wider range of species being targeted. With a deeply embedded network of local poachers, fishermen and hunters every single hectare of Malawi is now under real threat, as collection contracts are being issued for key parts of Malawi’s Biodiversity such as Monitor Lizards, Snakes and colourful birds.
As some of these animals are destined for consumption as a gourmet food product, whilst other products are in great demand for Chinese traditional medicine, they could easily share the same distribution networks. It is already accepted that the largest networks of global animal traffickers are active across Africa, including Malawi and its neighbours.
Turtles have never been eaten in this community before, which is why the turtle population was safe here for so long and why the meat is now being discarded and left to rot. Previously any turtles accidentally caught in nets would be put back in the water although they might have eaten turtle eggs. Local fishermen are being paid MK1000 (about $2.50) per turtle, which has lead to a gold rush feeling in the local community. You cannot blame the locals who are very poor and act out of necessity and ignorance. The sad reality is that it is probably the local who will pay for these crimes while the Chinese traffickers responsible will continue raping and pillaging our country as usual.