By The Nation Online
Standing in front of a tree made of rusty weapons and snares confiscated from poachers, Prince Harry on Monday welcomed Liwonde National Park and Mangochi Forest to the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy.
The two protected areas join Chimaliro Forest in Mzimba on the list of local indigenous forests under Prince Harry’s grandmother Queen Elizabeth II’s initiative in which all 53 Commonwealth countries are harnessing their collective expertise and resources to protect trees.
Unveiling the plaques of the two nature sanctuary at the gates of Liwonde National Park, the Duke of Sussex said: “The UK and Malawi have been working side by side to win the fight against illegal wildlife trade for some time. From tracking poachers on the ground to sentencing in courts, this work is successfully reaching out to wildlife criminals at every stage.”
The British royal commended Malawian rangers, British military and African Parks workforce for sharing their respective field tactics to improve expertise in tracking poachers, information analysis, bush craft and patrol skills.
He said this is one of the many examples of how countries and key stakeholders can work together “in partnership with a shared value and purpose” to conserve wildlife.
“Anyone who puts themselves in harm’s way while serving their country should be hugely appreciated,” he said, paying tribute to guardsman Matthew Tabolt, 22, who was killed by elephants in May during an anti-poaching operation in the national park.
Almost an hour before unveiling new protected areas under the conservation initiative Queen Elizabeth II launched in 2015, Prince Harry laid a wreath on a memorial site dedicated to the fallen soldier who received a cross in honour of the ultimate sacrifice he paid protecting the wild animals in the tropical woodlands.
The junior guardsman was on his first operation tour outside London when he was attacked by the elephants in the national park the royal has visited three times so far. His squad, which was deployed from March to June, is credited with eliminating 229 snares and reducing poaching in the protected reserve.
In an interview, Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Bintony Kutsaira thanked the British royal for his relentless interest in protecting the country’s endangered animals.
He hopes the royal visit will raise the profile of Malawi as a top tourist destination and attract financial support for conservation efforts set in motion when President Peter Mutharika burned a stockpile of ivory worth billions of kwachas in 2015.
The minister said the ivory fire, stiff penalties embedded in new laws and the training underway in Liwonde should send a strong message to criminals that Malawi is no longer a conduit and market for illegal trade in wildlife trophies.
Liwonde National Park lost the majority of its animals to poachers before African Parks took over its operations from government in 2015.
African Parks country director Craig Reid said the South African conservation organisation has helped restore the numbers and balance of the stock.
In the interiors of Liwonde, the royal watched a demonstration of how local rangers and British soldiers are working together to combat poaching.
He arrived in the country on Sunday afternoon after a tour of South Africa where he raised HIV awareness and Angola where he dialed up the clearing of landmines crippling civilians decades after the end of a devastating civil war.
He is expected to fly out to Botswana today after visiting a health centre in Chiradzulu District which receives support from the UK Government.