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Liwonde National Park Archives - Rhino Review

British troops help move endangered black rhinos to new home away from poachers

By Conservation
James Hockaday, Metro | Dec 26, 2019

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Vulnerable black rhinos have been relocated away from the eyes of hunters with the assistance of British soldiers.

Troops from the 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles teamed up with conservationists, training rangers at Malawi’s Liwonde National Park to improve their patrols in a bid to crack down on the illegal wildlife trade. Only 5,500 black rhinos live in the wild today because hunters have decimated their numbers.

Their horns are removed and sold on to the Far East, where they are ground down and turned into ‘medicine’, aphrodisiacs, or jewellery. Around the end of their three-month assignment, the Gurkhas helped with one of the largest international rhino re-location to date.

Original photo as published by Metro: Only 5,500 black rhinos live in the wild as hunters decimate their numbers. (Picture: PA)

Conservation group African Parks say 17 of the 1.4 tonne animals were hauled by air and road from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and taken to a new home in Malawi. Major Jez England, officer commanding the British Army Counter-Poaching Team in Liwonde said the operation had been ‘hugely successful’.

He added: ‘Not only do we share skills with the rangers, improving their efficiency and ability to patrol larger areas, but it also provides a unique opportunity for our soldiers to train in a challenging environment. ‘Helping with the rhino move was a fitting end to our time in Malawi, getting up close to the animals we are here to help protect was an experience the soldiers won’t forget.’

So far, the army has helped train 200 rangers in the country and no high-value species have been poached in Liwonde since 2017.

The project was led by African Parks in conjunction with Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. It aims to boost the rhino population in the region and preserve this critically endangered species for the next generation. Since their release, African Parks is continuing to monitor the animals as they settle in to their new home.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest transnational crime behind drugs, arms and human trafficking and can have hugely destabilising consequences.

He added: ‘With this deployment, our armed forces have once again demonstrated their versatility and value by contributing to the conservation work taking place in Malawi.

‘Working with local communities, host governments and wildlife groups is key to our approach, we want to see sustainable, community-led solutions that help promote security and stability for both the people and wildlife of Africa.’

The counter-poaching ranger partnering programme is funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and delivered by the British Army.

The UK Government has committed over £36 million to tackle the illegal wildlife trade between 2014 and 2021. Part of this is to help support transboundary work to allow animals to move more safely between areas and across national borders.

Want to Stop Poaching? Build a Smart Park

By Antipoaching
Jennifer Leigh Parker, Forbes | December 24, 2019

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Matt Yardley has just heard his favorite sound. It’s a radio dispatch in Zulu telling him that roughly three miles away, two alpha male lions have killed a giraffe, and are ravenously wolfing it down. Naturally, his trained ranger response is to chase this sighting at full speed in our Land Cruiser across the achingly wild, verdant expanse known as the andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve in the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa.

What we come upon, two gluttonous brothers resting after the feast, is almost as interesting as what we’ve passed along the way. A dazzle of zebras, journey of giraffes, herd of elephant, and a crash of rhino. But not just any rhino. Black rhino—of which there are roughly only 5,000 in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund. That’s a fraction of the estimated 100,000 that existed a few decades ago.

Original photo as published by Forbes: Rhinos at andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve. (PHOTO BY JENNIFER LEIGH PARKER)

In Phinda, black rhino are thriving in large part because of Tara Getty’s family trust. The grandson of the late oil tycoon J. Paul Getty passed us in his own Land Cruiser, either leaving or returning from the rentable enclave known as the Phinda Zuka Lodge. “He’s the private jet guy,” says Yardley, a senior game ranger for the luxury travel company andBeyond, which is owned by multiple shareholders, including the Gettys. “Ever seen the movie All the Money in the World?”

I haven’t. But the sheer beauty and scale of this teeming-with-game landscape evokes the film’s title. In 1991, the Gettys helped turn what was pineapple and cattle farmland into Phinda, which means “the return” in Zulu. Without the Gettys, Phinda probably wouldn’t exist. And if this massive 28,555 hectare (70,560 acres) park wasn’t surveilled on a 24-hour basis by andBeyond conservationists, the rhino wouldn’t be here either.

Poaching in South Africa is as bad as it’s ever been, which reflects the country’s 29% unemployment rate. Just next door, Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park is facing severe government budget cuts, and losing hundreds of rhino a year to poachers. The impact is sobering.

“Conservation doesn’t pay for itself. Tourism alone can’t cover all the costs, so most game parks must rely on donors,” says Simon Naylor, Phinda Reserve Manager. “We pay fixed leases every month, which are very high. Security is the most expensive aspect. It’s about 8 million rand [$560,000 USD] annually to secure Phinda. So when we talk about investing in tech, it’d better be worth it, hey?”

Currently, Phinda is equipped with satellite tags, ultra-high frequency (UHF) ear tags manufactured by African Wildlife Tracking, UHF receivers, and a cloud-based storage platform called CMORE that receives incoming data, and displays it on a screen that resembles Google Earth maps. Ear tags were deployed here in May 2019, and are designed to inform drones that fly over the reserve and send back location data—that is, if thick forest cover doesn’t get in the way, or the tag’s battery hasn’t died.

The Biggest Threat is Internal

Management says dehorning the rhino (a major production involving vets, helicopters, immobilizing drugs, and expert rangers) is still the most effective weapon against poaching. Having recently increased their rhino count from 150 to over 200, you can see why they take that view. Perversely, Phinda’s biggest poaching threat comes from its own staff, which includes roughly 80 full time field rangers with boots on the ground. Naylor explains: “Often, someone inside is approached by syndicates and is blackmailed into providing information. Some just want the money.

The goal is to catch them before they do it.”

You’d think all the money in the world could put an end to poaching. But the reality is not that simple. You also need best-in-class security, law enforcement, and advanced technology to track not just the animals in the park, but people too. Enter big data and, for the first time in the African conservation industry, artificial intelligence. When you need cameras to decipher the difference between images of trucks, animals, safari guests and poachers, AI is the way forward.

“Increasingly, people are seeing the power of tech to support law enforcement. We’re a long way off from cyborgs doing it all for you. Until we get there, it’s a partnership between people,” says Craig Reid, manager at Malawi’s Liwonde National Park for African Parks, a well funded NGO operation that manages 16 National Parks and protected areas across Africa. Many conservationists are looking to them to lead the way.

The Rise of Smart Parks

When I speak with Reid, it sounds like he’s calling from paradise. With birdsong in the background, there is a warm honey lilt in his Namibia-born voice, shaped by a life spent outdoors in the African bushveld. He’s just come back from an afternoon tracking black rhino on foot, despite having access to Liwonde’s high-tech control room that could have done the job for him. In fact, it did.

“I knew where he was by looking at our computers. You know, I’ve been in conservation for nearly 30 years, and to see where our rhino are in real-time just by logging in is just incredible,” says Reid.

Right now, African Parks is testing a newly installed “low power wide-area network” in Liwonde, which follows its first “smart park” installation in late 2017, inside Rwanda’s Akagera National Park. These networks capture all the data from the park’s tracking devices, and feed it into a platform called EarthRanger by Vulcan Inc. Essentially, it’s data visualization and analysis software designed to “bridge the data gap” in wildlife conservation. African Parks is a fan of EarthRanger, because it allows a huge number of assets to be detected and analyzed in real-time.

To cover Liwonde National Park’s 540 square kilometers (133,437 acres), African Parks has set up 11 towers equipped with “gateways,” which are surveillance gadgets receiving messages from devices in the park. For example, if there is a transmitter on a cheetah’s collar, that collar will transmit the GPS location to the tower, which will be received in the control room. This enables African Parks to embed GPS long range (LoRa) sensors into rhino horns.

In and of itself, this strategy represents a major shift in game park management, because it ends the need for expensive satellite transmission fees. “We’re still paying off the construction of these networks. But, overtime, you can track your assets without satellite. That is the long term savings,” says Geoff Clinning, IT manager for African Parks. He’s known as the organization’s tech guru.

When I ask him why these networks exist only in two of his 16 managed parks, he says: “You have to prove the tech first before you adopt it everywhere. A smart park is one tool in your toolbox, that can have massive benefits. It’s not a silver bullet, but it makes your toolbox far more powerful.”

Of course, stopping poachers isn’t just a matter of knowing where your game is. It’s knowing where poachers are, too. This is where AI comes in. “Poacher Cams” are placed throughout the park. When the camera takes a picture, triggered by a motion detector, an algorithm analyses the picture and if it decides if it’s a human form. Inside the 24-hour control room, an alert pops up on EarthRanger, with the image attached. Operators then inform management and a response is initiated. This strategy has consistently led to the successful conviction of criminal poachers. South Africa’s Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest game reserves, is having similar success using radar cameras they call “meerkats,” which function much the same way, using night vision and artificial intelligence.

Combined, this managed tech is one way to avoid having to de-horn the rhinos in the first place. It’s a reactive strategy, to be sure. The logic is that the combination of real-time location data and smart poacher cams will not only result in convictions, but also act as a strong deterrent. “This is all relatively new in the conservation space. We’ve just done a major introduction of rhinos into the park, and we’re pushing to get the horn transmitting right. Within six to 12 months, we’ll be off satellite tracking altogether. It will all be done through the wide-area network,” adds Craig Reid.

If he’s right, African Parks will have changed the world of safaris.

Already, the top rated luxury safari outfitters in the world, including andBeyond and Wilderness Safaris, are watching these developments very closely. In Rwanda’s Akagera National Park, for example, Wilderness Safaris’ Magashi Camp shares its game sightings data with African Parks, using similar software. Yet healthy skepticism remains, even among the most passionate conservationists.

“It’s critical that managers don’t look to technology as a panacea,” says Dr. Neil Midlane, Group Sustainability Manager at Wilderness Safaris. “Traditional strengths such as sufficient numbers of well-equipped personnel must first be in place. Then, the criminal justice system needs to be intact and functional. Once these elements are in place, strategic deployment of surveillance technology, along with appropriate data aggregation structures, can significantly increase the effectiveness of law enforcement efforts.”

All the money in the world doesn’t buy you a successful smart park. It takes will, dedication, and focused collaboration to save Africa’s endangered species. And if AI is acting as our eyes and ears, it’s clear we still need the human heart.

 

British troops help relocate endangered black rhinos as part of anti-poaching mission (Malawi)

By Antipoaching, Translocation
Sky News | December 26, 2019

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Troops from the 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles have recently come back from a three-month counter-poaching deployment in Malawi, southeastern Africa.

Based in Liwonde National Park, near the border with Mozambique, they worked in conjunction with African Parks, a conservation organisation.

They trained current and new rangers in a bid to crack down on the illegal trade by improving the effectiveness of patrols.

Original photo as published by Sky News: The troops worked in conjunction with African Parks, a conservation organization.

While they were there, the soldiers helped with one of the biggest international rhino translocations so far, offloading the 1.4-tonne animals which had been transported by air and road from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

The mission saw 17 black rhinos moved from South Africa to Malawi, according to African Parks.

There are around 5,500 black rhinos in the wild today.

Major Jez England, officer commanding British Army Counter-Poaching Team in Liwonde, described the operation as “hugely successful”.

He added: “Not only do we share skills with the rangers, improving their efficiency and ability to patrol larger areas, but it also provides a unique opportunity for our soldiers to train in a challenging environment.

“Helping with the rhino move was a fitting end to our time in Malawi, getting up close to the animals we are here to help protect was an experience the soldiers won’t forget.”

The army has helped train 200 rangers in Malawi – and no high-value species have been poached in Liwonde since 2017.

Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife also worked on the project.

It will help boost the rhino population in the region and help preserve the critically endangered species for the next generation.

The 17 rhinos have been monitored intensely since their release, as they settle in to their new environment.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest transnational crime behind drugs, arms and human trafficking and can have hugely destabilising consequences.

He added: “With this deployment, our armed forces have once again demonstrated their versatility and value by contributing to the conservation work taking place in Malawi.

“Working with local communities, host governments and wildlife groups is key to our approach, we want to see sustainable, community-led solutions that help promote security and stability for both the people and wildlife of Africa.”

The UK government has committed more than £36m to tackle the illegal wildlife trade between 2014 and 2021, with the counter-poaching ranger partnering programme funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

3 testify in high profile Malawi wildlife crime case involving Chinese national

By Antipoaching
Harold Kapindu, The Nyasa Times | December 6, 2019

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The hearing of Malawi’s most wanted suspected wildlife trafficker and notorious king pin, Chinese national Lin Yun Hua’s case has started at Lilongwe Magistrates court. Appearing alongside Malawian James Mkwezalamba, Lin Yun Hua is answering charges of money laundering offense and dealing with government trophy.

Presided by Chief resident magistrate Violet Chipao, both the defense and the state cross examined and reexamined two witnesses, South Africa based veterinarian, University of Pretoria Director of veterinary, genetics and laboratory, Dr Cindy Kim Harper and Liwonde National Park Field Operations Manager Lawrence Munlo.

It was established that on 28 February, 2016, a Rhino went missing at Liwonde National Park and was later found killed with its horns cut off.  The found Rhino horn specimen were further sent to South Africa were Dr Harper conducted the DNA tests. On Thursday, witness, McPherson testified and made the defense to seek for an adjournment. The defense addressed the court that they will have to go to Zomba Magistrate Court to get the case file for the case as they claimed that some issues raised by the state witnesses are not in the witness report.

Speaking to Nyasa Times, State council Andy Kaonga said the two witnesses are very important to the case. “Bringing in the foreign witness, Dr Harper who is an expert in DNA testing would have been a challenge. We are therefore happy that she came and testified. We have eight witnesses. We are done with two and remaining with six,” Kaonga said.

In his brief remarks, Defense Counsel Chrispin Ndalama said the court would determine whether Dr Harper’s tests on samples are relevant or not. In November, Lin Yun Hua pleaded guilty to the charge of Illegal possessions of specimen of listed species, 103 pieces of Rhino horn.

Facts were presented and court convicted him on his own plea of guilty. A total of ten Chinese and four Malawian nationals have been arrested this year in relation to the syndicate in question and are at various stages of trial. Meanwhile, Chief Magistrate Chipao has adjourned the case to 21 January 2020.

Malawi receives 17 black rhinos from South Africa

By Conservation, Translocation

Reuters | November 13, 2019

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BLANTYRE: Seventeen black rhinos have been released into Malawi’s Liwonde national park after arriving from South Africa as part of conservation efforts aimed at keeping the local population of the endangered species healthy and safe.

By moving the beasts, in one of the biggest international relocations of its kind, conservationists hope to ensure wild black rhinos remain genetically diverse to better fight off disease.

Peter Fearnhead, Chief Executive of African Parks, a private conservation trust that runs game reserves in Malawi, said the relocation also reflected local efforts to keep rhinos and other wild animals safe. Anti-poaching measures in Malawi have included deploying British troops to patrol the reserves.

Original photo as posted by Reuters: A 33 month old black rhino is seen at a game reserve near Cape Town, South Africa, January 8, 2005. (REUTERS/Mike Hutchings//File Photo)

“Extensive measures to protect these animals include aerial surveillance, daily ranger patrols, and the integration of the most advanced technology to enable live-time tracking,” Fearnhead said. “With fewer than 5,500 black rhinos remaining in the wild, translocations to well-protected areas are essential for their long-term survival.”

The first translocation of two rhinos from South Africa’s Kruger National Park took place in 1992. The new transfer was organized by wildlife departments in the two countries and WWF South Africa.

The 17 rhinos were captured in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and quarantined for six weeks at Imfolozi Game Reserve, after which they were flown from King Shaka airport in Durban to Lilongwe in Malawi.

Britain’s Prince Harry has been involved in conservation efforts at Liwonde, which lies in Eastern Southern Malawi on the banks of the Shire river.

“This is a great boost to the endangered rhino species, hunted down for its horn,” said Brightson Kumchedwa, director of parks and wildlife in Malawi’s Ministry of Natural Resources.

“For the South African government to release the 17 is a sign of confidence in Malawi’s concerted efforts to greatly improve wildlife security.”

Prince Harry’s conservation charity African Parks takes on neglected Zimbabwean national park

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Land conservation, Translocation
Victoria Ward & Peta Thornycroft, The Telegraph | November 3, 2019

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The Duke of Sussex’s African Parks has taken over the management of one of Zimbabwe’s most neglected national parks that has fallen victim to rampant poaching. It aims to reform the 1,000 square mile Matusadonha National Park’s elephant and black rhino populations and transform it into a leading safari destination.

The Duke spent almost three weeks working with African Parks in Malawi in 2016 as the organisation embarked on one of the biggest elephant translocation projects in conservation history. He returned to the Liwonde National Park Headquarters in September for an update on its progress.

Writing in this newspaper during his recent tour of southern Africa, he revealed that the experience three years earlier had taken his understanding and respect for conservation to a “whole new level”.

Original photo as published by The Telegraph: Prince Harry at the Chobe National Park, Botswana, in September. (CREDIT: DOMINIK LIPINSKI/POOL VIA AP)

In 2017, he became president of African Parks, a sign of his personal commitment to the region. Peter Fearnhead, its chief executive, was a guest at his wedding to Meghan Markle.

Matusadonha National Park, in northern Zimbabwe, is flanked by the giant Lake Kariba and has two rivers running through it.

Frances Read, from African Parks, said it was one of the country’s flagship and most valuable areas, with the potential to become a leading safari destination.

But it is fraught with challenges and in desperate need of funding and proper management, which it will undertake in partnership with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. Poachers have all but wiped out its black rhino population whilst elephant numbers have been severely depleted.

Ms Read said the first job will be to secure its borders to allow wildlife populations to recover and rebound naturally before implementing effective management structures and law enforcement strategies.

“We will then be working with the local community so they start to see that this is for them and that this is an asset,” she said. “Matusadonha is a very special place for Zimbabwe and has a lot of potential for tourism and socio-economic development.”

The 20-year contract awarded to African Parks – its first foray into the country – is considered all the more remarkable by conservationists who had thought it highly unlikely that the government of Zimbabwe would ever allow a foreign organisation to take control of its wildlife resources.

Blondie Leatham, one of Zimbabwe’s best known conservationists and safari operators, said: “This is one of the most exciting things that has happened for wildlife in Zimbabwe for a very long time.”

The Duke recently described the continent as his “second home” and has made no secret of the special place it holds in is heart, having first travelled there in the immediate aftermath of the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997.

During his recent tour of southern Africa with the Duchess of Sussex and their son, Archie, he revealed their “life work will be predominantly focused on Africa, on conservation.”

Whilst in Malawi in 2016, the Duke expressed great concern for conservation parks, saying: “I do worry. I think everyone should worry. We need to look after them, because otherwise our children will not have a chance to see what we have seen. This is God’s test: If we can’t save some animals in a wilderness area, what else can’t we do?”

African Parks is a non-profit NGO working with governments and local communities. Its latest agreement with Zimbabwe, signed on Friday, takes the number of parks it manages to 16 in 10 countries covering almost 11 million hectares.

South Africa to restock Malawi with endangered black rhinos

By Antipoaching, Conservation
The Nyasa Times | November 1, 2019

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South African government will deliver endangered Black Rhinos to Malawi following signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two countries on Friday in Lilongwe.

The deal was sealed this morning when Minister of Natural Resources Energy and Mining Bintony Kutsaira and the South Africa High Commissioner Ahlangene Sigcau finalised the paperwork for the MOU in Lilongwe.

Original photo as published by Nyasa Times: Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Bintony Kutsaira, and the South African High Commissioner Ahlangene Sigcau finalised the paperwork for the MOU in Lilongwe.

South Africa will supply the animals to restock Black Rhinos and promote tourism in Malawi. Kutsaira said the rhinos will be put at Liwonde National Park where the British troops are doing their training for security to beef up the number of trained rangers.

Sigcau said his govt is encouraged to hear that the rhinos are going to be well-secured. The non-profit organisation, based in South Africa with Dutch support, has already transformed Malawi’s Majete Reserve and is including the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in its latest long-term initiative.

The aim is to help Malawi to become the next big safari destination. The move comes against the backdrop of an unfolding rhino poaching crisis in South Africa, home to most of the world’s population of the bulky pachyderms.

South Africa has more than 80 percent of the world’s rhino population with about 18,000 White Rhinos and close to 2,000 Black Rhinos, which is why it has been at the frontline of the horn poaching crisis.

‘Holy grail in rhino monitoring’ deployed in Liwonde National Park

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Science and technology
Smart Parks | October, 7 2019

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Smart Parks and African Parks have successfully implanted the first GPS LoRaWAN™ enabled transmitters into the horns of two eastern black rhinos at Liwonde National Parks in Malawi.

The devices provide park management with a real-time position of the critically endangered rhinos every hour. The locations are collected by the Smart Parks network and presented in the control room situated at the headquarters of the park. By knowing the whereabouts of the animal, the park can allocate its resources to protect the rhino more efficiently.

Original photo as published by Smart Parks: A vet carefully places the rhino sensor © Jonas Eriksson/ African Parks

The new lightweight, long term, sustainable method of rhino monitoring is already referred to by some park managers as the “holy grail in rhino monitoring”. Craig Reid, park manager of Liwonde National Park, adds:

“The insertion of the GPS tracker unit in the horns of our rhino enables accurate live time tracking, a significant development in the monitoring and security of this vulnerable species. This is one of the most significant breakthroughs in rhino conservation in recent times.”

The new GPS-rhino tracker uses LoRaWAN™ to communicate, making it one of the most secure devices in the field of conservation. The protocol uses well-vetted algorithms for end-to-end security.

In previous situations, rhinos were tracked by either a VHF-tracker or a LoRaWAN™ Geoloc solution. The VHF tracker required a ranger to go into the field and detect the signal, which made it very labor-intensive and also a risk to security. The LoRaWAN™ Geoloc method (also introduced by Smart Parks) requires significant infrastructure and is less accurate than the GPS-tracker.

The rhino sensor is provided to parks for 150 euro. Smart Parks was able to develop this affordable sensor thanks to financial supporters of the Smart Parks Foundation, but also thanks to the vital support by the companies TAOGLAS, IRNAS, and the University of Amsterdam.

Important information for wildlife protectors
Smart Parks is equipping another 30 rhinos with the new tracker before the end of the year. Wildlife managers and conservationists can make pre-orders for new deployments or enquiries for collaborations by contacting:

Laurens de Groot
Laurens@smartparks.org
+31642299727

Revealed: ‘Ivory trafficker’ is arrested over slaughter of endangered black rhinos at the Malawi wildlife sanctuary Prince Harry will visit on Monday – after police uncovered haul of horns, hippo teeth and crocodile skins

By Antipoaching, Conservation
James Fielding, The Daily Mail Online | September 30, 2019

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A man accused of ivory trafficking faces jail over slaughter rhinos at a Malawian wildlife sanctuary where Prince Harry will visit on Monday.

Yunhua Lin was arrested after a dramatic police swoop seized a haul of rhino horns, hippo teeth and crocodile skins.

The horns come from the endangered black rhinos butchered at the Liwonde National Park where the Duke of Sussex worked on one of the world’s biggest conservation projects.

Harry spent three weeks at the 212-square mile park, in the south of the country, as part of a project to re-introduce 500 elephants in 2016.

He is due to visit Liwonde again on Monday as part of a 10-day Royal tour of Africa, his first overseas engagement with Meghan and their five-month-old son Archie.

Michelle Harper, of the African Conservation Foundation told MailOnline: ‘Harry will be horrified to learn that rhinos from the park where he spent three happy weeks have been slaughtered for their horns.

Original photo by Robin Moore

‘The Duke worked closely with authorities in the park three years ago when he helped move 500 elephants and so has a great affinity with all of the park’s animals.

‘However he’ll be pleased that authorities in Malawi appear to be winning the fight not just against the poachers but also the traffickers responsible for ultimately driving the demand for ivory and the killing on the ground.’

Crime boss Lin, 46, described by the Malawi Government as a ‘notorious ivory kingpin’, was targeted in coordinated police raids across six properties in May. He initially escaped and went on the run for three months before eventually being tracked down in Liwonde and arrested in August.

Lin, known as Lee ‘Fingers’ because he is missing three digits on his left hand, is currently in jail on remand and is expected to appear in court on October 8. He is charged with illegal possession of listed species and dealing in Government trophies contrary to the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

His gang also face charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Among those arrested during the police raids in May were Lin’s wife Qin Hua Zhang, 42, and son-in-law Li Hao Yaun, 28.

At the time both were on bail for separate trafficking offences that they were finally convicted of this week.

Zhang and Yaun were arrested with two Malawians in December 2017 at a farm in the Malawian capital of Lilongwe.

They were found with ten pieces of ivory – weighing 21 kilograms – alongside illicit drugs, and crocodile skins.

The gang were convicted of illegal possession of, and dealing in, a listed species at the magistrates court in Lilongwe on Tuesday. They could be jailed for 30 years.

Mary Rice, Executive Director from the Environment Investigations Agency said, ‘I am delighted to see the Government of Malawi making such progress in its fight against organised wildlife crime.

‘Malawi was recently identified as Southern Africa’s principle transit and distribution hub for wildlife traffickers, and subsequent successes such as this are attracting positive interest and praise from the international community.

‘We shall be watching the progress of these cases with great interest.’