Facing off in Kenya

April 22, 2013

Maasai Mara Elephant

We’re following developments in Kenya with keen interest as police and wildlife authorities try to deal with ivory and rhino horn poaching and smuggling. On the 8th of April, a Vietnemese National, Nguyen Viet Truong Phong was arrested in transit at the international airport with over 30kg of worked ivory worth over US$67,000. He was charged and sentenced, but ended up being fined a paltry US$476, a move that caused widespread outrage in Kenya. It is clear that the woefully inadequate penalties provided for in the Kenyan Wildlife Crimes Act need a desperate overhaul to deal with the increasing sophistication, intensity and global reach of the illegal wildlife trade.

It is fantastic to see how Kenyans have taken the threat of poaching to heart and responded. In a typically self-sufficient move, a local group, Kenyan’s United Against Poaching (KUAPO), has pulled together ordinary citizens and conservationists together to mount country-wide protest marches highlighting the extent of the problem, and demanding action. The marches began in January 2013, and continued through the heat of the presidential campaigns and elections to the present time. KUAPO also recently delivered a 6,000-signature petition to the President of Kenya, asking that poaching be declared a national disaster. A bravura display of people power at work, and a telling sign of Kenya’s coming of age as a true democracy.

It would appear that their efforts and those of other key conservation bodies, including WildlifeDirect are beginning to bear fruit. Kenya’s new President, Uhuru Kenyatta, in his recent inauguration speech, said that poaching and destruction of the environment would have no place in Kenya. In the past few days, Kenya’s Director of Public Prosecutions has instructed the Kenya Wildlife Service to refer all wildlife crimes to his office. This means that cases against ivory smugglers can be prosecuted as customs crimes or organised crimes, which carry far harsher penalties: the minimum penalty being the value of the product, or 7 years in a Kenyan jail, respectively.

We take our hats off to inspirational individuals such as WildlifeDirect’s Dr Paula Kahumbu and Raabia Hawa, and to organisations like David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and many others, who are refusing to succumb to overwhelming odds, and are leading this fight from the front.

Patrick Shah

Posted by Patrick Shah

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