Kenyan authorities arrested and convicted the first ivory trafficker since new smuggling laws were enacted at the end of 2013. Julian Omidi discusses the new ivory trafficking and elephant poaching penalties, as well as the ivory trade itself.
In a blow against illegal wildlife poaching, a Kenyan court sentenced a Chinese ivory trafficker to seven years in prison or 20 million shillings (about $230,000). The trafficker, Tang Yong Jian, was the first conviction under the newest anti-poaching laws in Kenya.
He was apprehended while carrying 7.5 pounds of ivory in a suitcase while on a stopover in Nairobi between Mozambique to China. If he is unable to pay the fine, he will be forced to carry out his seven year prison sentence.
Previously, the trafficking of a relatively small amount of ivory would have resulted in a mere fine, a maximum of $465. Since Kenya passed new laws regarding wildlife poaching, the penalties have become significantly steeper.
In cases of smuggling contraband ivory or rhino horn, the sentence is a minimum of one million shillings or a jail sentence of five years – or both. In cases of killing endangered animals, it is possible to be sentenced to live imprisonment.
The Kenyan Wildlife Service applauds the new penalties for wildlife poaching and ivory smuggling. Wildlife rangers often risked their lives enforcing weak laws that only amounted to small fines to the guilty parties. Now that theses sentences have been strengthened and could result in spending a lifetime behind bars, incidences of trafficking are expected to decline dramatically.
Kenya is home to some of the most famous and expansive wildlife reserves in the world. Much of their tourism revenue comes from wildlife safari tours, which are jeopardized by the illegal ivory trade. The elephant population in Africa is believed to be approximately 500,000, down from more than 1 million in 1980 and 10 million in 1900. In 2012, 22,000 elephants were poached.
Although the ivory trade has been banned in Kenya since 1989, the practice is still widespread. Compared to international poachers, the Kenyan Wildlife Service rangers are wholly outmanned and out gunned. Poachers have evolved since the mid-twentieth century, when they largely travelled on foot and had only machetes and perhaps the odd rifle. Today, they are equipped with military-grade weaponry, and have even been known to use helicopters and shoot down elephants from the sky.
The ivory and rhino horn trade is a business that grosses $10 billion annually. In China, rhino horn is ground into traditional medicines, and ivory jewelry and home accents are highly prized.
Hopefully, the stance taken by Kenyan authorities will be emulated by other nations whose elephants are in danger of being slaughtered for their tusks. If the cost of killing elephants is spending a lifetime in a foreign prison, poaching could very well be a thing of the past. The elephant is the earth’s largest remaining land animal; the fact that it is routinely killed for a vanity item is absolutely abhorrent.
 BBC: Chinese ivory smuggler gets record Kenyan fine BBC 1/28/2014 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-25925176