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Kenya shows African countries can be part of the solution to the wildlife trade

Illegal Ivory Stockpile in Kenya

A Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) ranger stands guard over an ivory haul seized overnight as it transited through Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi. Photograph: TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images


Powered by article titled “Kenya shows African countries can be part of the solution to the wildlife trade” was written by Paula Kahumbu, for on Tuesday 11th February 2014 14.26 UTC

On 28 January, a Kenyan court ordered a Chinese man caught by customs officers at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with an ivory tusk in his suitcase to pay $230,000 in fines or be jailed seven years.

The stiff sentence, described as a “landmark ruling” by a spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service, was made possible by Kenya’s new Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, which finally gives authorities the powers they needed to crack down on illegal trade in wildlife products.

How much things have changed can be appreciated by comparing this case with one a year earlier when four Chinese men caught smuggling ivory valued at over $20,000 were fined a derisory $340 a piece. The magistrate at the time complained that such crimes were still considered “petty offences” and called for the law to be changed.

Kenyan authorities are taking their responsibilities under the new act seriously. On 4 February a Chinese man convicted of ivory smuggling was re-arrested, when the Director of Public Prosecutions appealed against a sentence handed down by a lower court which allowed him to walk free after paying a fine of 1 million Kenyan Shillings (about $11,500).

“As the custodian of the state powers of prosecution, my office swiftly moved to appeal the sentence earlier handed down in the interest of our national wildlife and environmental conservation efforts,” said Keriako Tobiko, the DPP. The smuggler can now expect a more stringent sentence.

In an article this week in the Daily Nation, the UK government minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, expressed his appreciation for Kenya’s efforts to tackle wildlife crime:

Kenya is leading the way in terms of its responses on the ground. The new Wildlife Act is a clear signal, from the very top, of Kenya’s determination to hold those responsible for trafficking to account and to deter those who wish to use Kenya as a transit country

Much of the stolen ivory exported from or via Kenya ends up in China – and there are encouraging signs that Chinese authorities are also getting tough on the traffickers.

In January, more than 6 tonnes of seized smuggled ivory were publicly destroyed in Guangdong. Now it has emerged that a Chinese national suspected of being the leader of an ivory trafficking group was arrested in Kenya on 17 January and extradited to China, in an action co-ordinated by Operation Cobra II, a campaign involving 28 countries, including China, the United States and South Africa. The group allegedly hired couriers to smuggle ivory and rhino horn products from Kenya.

Illegal Ivory Smuggling

A Chinese woman, Chen Biemei, was jailed by a Kenyan court for 2 years and 7 months for attempting to smuggle ivory out of Kenya in this macadamia nut packets, August 2013. Photograph: WildlifeDirect

The arrest followed the discovery of ivory products hidden in bags labelled as macadamia nuts in the baggage of two “tourists” who were arrested on their return to China. Interestingly, a Chinese woman was caught attempting to smuggle ivory out of Kenya using an identical method in August last year and sentenced to 2 years and 7 months in jail, a clear indication that this was a highly organised criminal enterprise. Wildlife trafficking is known to be linked to organised crime.


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