Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com, May 29, 2013:
The Kenyan parliament has approved emergency measures to tackle the on-going poaching crisis: last week Kenyan MPs approved higher penalties for poachers including fines up to $120,000 and 15 years in jail. The new penalties come into place just as Kenya Wildlife Service’s (KWS) is pursuing a gang of poachers that slaughtered four rhinos over the weekend. Both rhinos and elephants have suffered heavily as poaching has escalated in Kenya and beyond.
“Kenya’s elephants declined from 160,000 in 1960s to 16,000 in 1989 due to poaching. Today Kenya is home to only 38,500 elephants and 1,025 rhinos. These animals are a major tourism attraction and anyone who threatens them is committing economic sabotage and should be treated as such,” Chachu Ganya, MP for North Horr, told fellow legislatures during deliberation. Since January 1st, Kenya has already lost 117 elephants and 21 rhinos to wildlife poachers.
Still, Kenya has been known for years as having light penalties for poachers, including a fine of around $480 and up to two years in jail, though this prison time was rarely applied. New penalties have raised possible fines by 25 times and jail time by 7 times.
“The passing of this bill is a huge victory, it is the strongest message from the Government of Kenya on the commitment to preserve our national heritage. MPs today voted for Kenya to restore her position as a global leader in wildlife conservation,” says Paula Kahumbu, the Executive Director of Kenya-based NGO, WildlifeDirect, which is campaigning to protect elephants in Kenya.
Rising demand for ivory and rhino horn in East Asia has caused a poaching crisis in recent years across Africa. Over 1,000 rhinos have been killed on the continent in the last 18 months. Their horns are sawn off and ground into a powder which is taken as a curative in East Asia, despite no scientific evidence of medicinal properties. Elephants have also seen numbers shrink in many countries as demand for illegal ivory grows. Forest elephants, which are found largely in the Congo Basin, have been decimated by this demand: a recent study found that over 60 percent of the world’s forest elephants have been slaughtered in the last decade. Some scientists believe forest elephants should be designated as a distinct species from their larger, savannah cousins.