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Kenya’s New Wildlife Law Cracks Down on Wildlife Crime

  • Wednesday, January 29, 2014
  • Nairobi, Kenya
 ZAWA ranger holding piece of ivory cut for shipment

Raw ivory is often smuggled to China where it is crafted into an artistic carving or other luxury product. The Environmental Investigation Agency estimates 90 percent of the ivory for sale in China is illegal. 

Court hands down harshest sentence yet to ivory smuggler

On Tuesday, a Kenyan court ordered Tang Yong Jian, a convicted ivory smuggler from China, to pay a fine of Ksh 20 million, approximately US$233,000, or serve seven years in prison.

It’s the harshest sentence handed down yet to a convicted wildlife trafficker since Kenya’s new wildlife law, designed to curb widespread poaching and wildlife trafficking in the country, went into effect last month. Authorities arrested Jian last week at Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport after discovering he had 3.4 kg of raw ivory hidden in his bag. He pleaded guilty to the smuggling charge.

“This is a landmark sentence for a wildlife trafficker and will send a strong message to other poachers and traffickers that Kenya is serious about wildlife crime,” says Philip Muruthi, African Wildlife Foundation’s senior director of conservation science. “Moreover, it sends a message of support to the rangers who put their lives on the line every day to protect our precious wildlife. Their hard work is not in vain.”

Before the new wildlife law went into effect, poachers and traffickers arrested and convicted of their crimes received relatively meager fines and little to no jail time.  At a November 2012 judicial luncheon in Nairobi convened by the African Wildlife Foundation and Kenya Wildlife Service, African law enforcement, judicial, and a legal professionals gathered to discuss ways to deter wildlife-related crimes through harsher penalties. Whereas Kenya’s previous wildlife law hindered the ability of the country’s magistrates to mete out harsh punishments to convicted wildlife criminals, the new law allows for fines as high as Ksh 20 million and a jail sentence of no less than five years. 

“Previously, the immense profits involved with wildlife trafficking, combined with the low risk of punishment, created a culture of impunity,” says Muruthi. “Now, the cost of getting involved in this kind of illegal business just went up substantially.”

As Jian was being sentenced, another Chinese national was arrested at the country’s airport carrying ivory. He will face similar charges to Jian under Kenya’s new wildlife law.

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