Kenya to Enact Harsher Punishments for Elephant, Rhino Poachers

Kenya plans to tackle a surge in the slaughter of elephants and rhinos with stiffer penalties including 15-year jail terms, according to the majority leader of parliament.

The proposed Wildlife Conservation and Management Bill seeks to increase the fine for offenses including unlawfully killing wild animals to as much as 10 million Kenyan shillings ($114,351) from 40,000 shillings, and raise the jail term to as many as 15 years from 10 years, according to a copy of the bill. Parliament’s first reading of the act is scheduled for today, according to the legislative agenda on its website.

“One of the issues is that the current punitive measures are very weak and we want to make them very harsh so we can deter people from poaching,” Aden Duale said in an interview in the capital, Nairobi, on Sept. 3.

Kenya banned the ivory trade in 1989 after the number of elephants dwindled to about 16,000 from as many as 167,000 in 1976. The government burned its 12-metric-ton ivory stockpile in a public demonstration organized by then President Daniel Arap Moi that the crime would no longer be tolerated.

The illegal killing of elephants has been on the rise again over the past few years with poaching at its highest level in a decade in Africa, fueled by global demand for ivory, particularly in China and Thailand, which has pushed up prices, according to Traffic, a wildlife trade-monitoring group. Rhino poaching has also been increasing in Africa because of growing black markets in Asia where the horn is used as an ingredient in traditional medicines, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Declining Population

Poachers killed 34 rhinos in Kenya so far this year to August, a 17 percent increase on the whole of 2012, leaving 1,205. About 190 elephants were illegally slaughtered in the period, compared with 384 last year, putting the total population at 40,000, according to the government.

The country is stepping up enforcement with plans to deploy paramilitary forces and acquire drones to track poachers.

Challenges in combating the illegal trade include corruption in the courts and the frequent collection of poor evidence by wildlife officials, Paula Kahumbu, the director of WildlifeDirect, a conservationist group, said by phone yesterday from Nairobi. Of the 157 poaching-related cases detected in Kenya in the past three years, less than 5 percent have been prosecuted and only 3 of those convicted were sentenced to jail, she said.

“If the current rate of poaching is not curbed, elephants could be extinct in 10 years because for every one elephant reported killed by authorities, another three or four have been killed but not reported,” Kahumbu said.

“With the current rate of breeding among elephants, their population should be increasing by 40 percent annually; instead it’s dropping by between 10 percent and 20 percent,” she said.

Conserving Kenya’s wildlife has economic rewards, Richard Lesiyampe, principal secretary in the ministry of environment and natural resources, said on Aug. 8. The country’s game parks are a major attraction for the almost 2 million tourists that travel to Kenya every year. Tourism is the country’s biggest source of foreign exchange earnings after tea exports.

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