Illegal loggers ‘capture’ Michiru Sanctuary

webnexttech | Illegal loggers ‘capture’ Michiru Sanctuary

Illegal loggers at Michiru Mountain Nature Sanctuary in Blantyre have created no-go zones for game rangers. Under the escort of three armed Police Mobile Service (PMS) officers and six game rangers on Tuesaday, Nation on Sunday went close to where the illegal loggers are camping, and moulding bricks. However, we were stopped in our tracks as they pelted us with stones while uttering profanities. Armed with axes, pangas and metal bars, they threatened that any inch close to them meant war and they were ready for it. Noticing the volatile situation, PMS officers suggested a retreat while firing warning shots to scare them. They could be heard laughing, signifying their triumph. On the same day, the loggers also turned away a church youth group that went up the mountain for a social hike. “We were told they would hurt us if we went further,” explained Jonathan Banda. In an interview, a ranger, who opted for anonymity, said they are powerless to act on the illegal loggers. He said: “They are more than 100 up there while we are less than 15. We definitely know that if we go to stop them, we will be fighting a losing battle.” He said the National Department of Parks and Wildlife was better placed to comment, stressing that the illegal loggers are provocative. According to another game ranger, the loggers are from the sanctuary’s surrounding communities. She said: “This makes it tricky for us to act on their illegal activities because we definitely know they would retaliate.” The game rangers recalled a situation in 2023 when they apprehended one of the loggers and his colleagues burnt down offices and houses at the sanctuary. They both said the illegal loggers are now controlling the protected area and restricting people’s movement. National Parks and Wildlife director Brighton Kumchedwa in an interview acknowledged the situation. He said plans are underway to remove the loggers from the mountain. In a separate interview, Minister of Natural Resources and Climate Change Michael Usi described the situation as worrisome. He said his ministry is coordinating with law enforcement agencies and local leaders to address the issue and protect the mountain and its surroundings. “We are deploying additional resources and implementing stricter measures to deter illegal logging and encroachments. Furthermore, we are collaborating with local communities and stakeholders to raise awareness and promote sustainable practices. “We take this matter seriously and are committed to preserving our natural resources for future generations,” said Usi. Minister of Tourism Vera Kamtukule also said the government will not relent until the illegal loggers are brought to justice. She said soldiers were deployed to the sanctuary last year to beef up security, but they could not stay longer owing to their initial commitments and lack of financial resources. “It would be an anomaly to assume that they [soldiers] would be there all the time because there is also an issue of logistics and resources. “But we will not relent until we are satisfied that our forests and protected areas are safe and that the gallant rangers who risk their lives every day to protect our forests are well taken care of. They are called protected areas for a reason,” she said. Michiru Mountain Nature Sanctuary, established in 1975, has lately been held at ransom by illegal loggers and others extracting soil for moulding bricks. In November 2023, British High Commissioner Fiona Ritchie called for urgent action to reverse the plunder. Wildlife Society and Environmental Society of Malawi national chairperson Tiwonge Mzumara Gawa also called for coordination between the departments of Forestry and the National Parks and Wildlife to ensure standardised operations in their areas of jurisdiction on the mountain.

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