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S Africa Press: Malawi Defies CITES Treaty, Kills Crocodiles

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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on January 12, 2001 at 07:15:54:

AFRICA EYES NEWS SERVICE (South Africa) 11 January 01 Malawi Defies CITES Treaty, Kills Crocodiles (Brian Ligomeka)
Blantyre: Malawi defied international wildlife treaties on Thursday and ordered officials and commercial hunters to begin exterminating Nile crocodiles from its densely populated southern provinces.
Environmental Affairs Minister Harry Thomson said a surge in crocodile numbers in the Chikwawa and Nsanje districts and along the Shire River had resulted in a spate of deaths and injuries amongst local villagers.
Malawi is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits the commercial hunting of Nile crocodiles.
"We know there is a world-wide ban on crocodile hunting but have no choice because these animals are causing havoc. I have therefore deployed hunters to remove the man-eaters," said Thomson.
The Nile crocodile, which has always occurred naturally in southern Lake Malawi and on tributaries of the Zambezi River, was declared an endangered species after ruthless hunting for its skin earlier this centaury pushed it to the verge of extinction in Malawi.
Local populations recovered sufficiently, however, to be move off CITES Appendix 1 which prohibited all trade in its products to CITIES Appendix 2 allowing limited hunting and trade.
"We have been culling wild crocodiles since 1948 but are currently only allowed to shoot 250 crocodiles per year. Crocodile numbers have grown so much, however, that a 1998 report indicated that a Parks and Wildlife researcher was able to shoot 25 crocodiles without once moving from his seat on a riverbank," said Thomson.
Attempts to control crocodile numbers have been hampered, he added, by inadequate information on the reptiles and their local habitants.
Thomson said local residents insisted crocodile numbers had boomed over the past five years, but conservationists believed villagers were simply encountering the reptiles more often as their villages grew and as rural peasants began using wetlands for agriculture.
"Some conservationists believe that increased human activity has chased away crocodiles' normal wildlife prey and resulted in the reptiles instead attacking humans and livestock," he said.
Thomson stressed, however, that the mounting human toll left government with no choice but to begin exterminating crocodiles in the heaviest populated regions.
"The whole concept of conserving wildlife is that it should benefit local people. But these deadly reptiles are only creating havoc and bring no economic or other benefit to villagers," he said.
Thomson's view is shared by many who live along the Shire River and beside Lake Malawi.
"Conserving crocodiles is the same as keeping serial murderers in a residential area. Crocodiles and murderers are both the enemies of innocent people. They both attack and kill. I don't think we should conserve these animals," said one of their most recent victims, 48-year- old Labson Mkwakwa.
Mkwakwa narrowly escaped death last month when a crocodile attacked him on a Lake Malawi beach. The crocodile grabbed him by the leg and, he said, began dragging him towards deep water.
"I screamed for all I was worth. Luckily, my screams annoyed a nearby hippo, which charged. The crocodile let me go to defend itself, and I was able to crawl to safety," said Mkwakwa.
The hippo bit the crocodile in the head, killing it instantly. The body is displayed in Mkwakwa's village, but the subsistence farmer is still recovering from his injuries at a local community clinic.
Even when crocodiles are culled, villagers seldom benefit financially from the meat or skin and therefore view the reptiles as dangerous vermin instead of wildlife with potential economic value.

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