Poachers and dealers in illegal animal trophies now face life imprisonment and a fine of more than KSh20 million (about Shs580 million) under a new law meant to protect endangered wildlife like elephants and rhinos.
The new law has also increased compensation for deaths and injuries caused by wildlife to about Shs145m and Shs58m respectively. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act into law on Christmas eve.
The stiff punishments are meant to tackle the rising cases of poachers killing wildlife for tusks, horns and skins for sale in the thriving South Asia market. Weak laws have seen Kenya become a conduit for smuggling illegal animal trophies.
“We are happy with the deterrent passed. With proper co-ordination with other government arms like Interpol and customs, we’ll curb the current situation. However, even with the laws, we still need Kenyans to work with us to save our animals,” said Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) communications manager Paul Udoto.
Conservationists have previously called for stiffer penalties to tackle poaching, which has hurt the tourism industry, a top foreign exchange earner in Kenya. The country has around 40,000 elephants and 1,025 rhinos. Sport hunting, now classified as category B, will attract a five-year jail term, Sh5 million fine or both while category C animal hunters will pay about Shs29 million, a two-year jail term or both.
Those found hunting or trading in bush-meat face a one-year jail term, a KSh200,000 fine or both if convicted. Compensation for life lost to a wild animal has been increased to Sh5 million. Those who are maimed will receive Sh3 million while those injured will receive a maximum of Shs58 million, depending on the injury.
Poaching in the East African community countries
Last year, three East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania were among eight countries that faced economic sanctions over their failure to prevent widespread elephant poaching.
A report by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cides) increasing poaching levels, as well as loss of habitat are threatening the survival of the elephant population in Central Africa as well as previously secure populations in West, Southern and Eastern Africa.
Thailand, China and Malaysia were also considered for sanctions because of claims that widespread corruption the report said was frustrating anti-poaching efforts.
The report cited elephant population across Africa to be “under severe threat” as the illegal trade in ivory has grown over the past decade. Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are source countries while Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines are countries through which ivory is smuggled, while Thailand and China are destination countries.