Kenyan lawmakers are expected to pass major new wildlife legislation this week. WildlifeDirect is lobbying for lengthy jail sentences but is against the proposed minimum sentence of life imprisonment. Life imprisonment sounds good but will be impossible to implement and is likely to result in an extremely high rate of case dismissals and acquittals. We propose “Up to life imprisonment” for killing elephants and rhino or trading in their products.
This will force magistrates to treat these crimes as felonies which will allow for lengthy jail sentences. Wildlife crimes are currently treated as petty offences and fewer than 5% of convictions lead to jail sentences.
Loise Njagi, Hon Chachu Ganya and Paula Kahumbu outside Parliament buildings in Kenya when the new legislation was first proposed earlier this year.
Dr Paula Kahumbu spoke to the Rt Hon. Owen Paterson, the British Secretary of State for the Environment about the Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign plans, achievements and ideas for moving forward. She explained the implications of the new legislation and how it is essential to halt the decline of Kenya’s iconic species. He assured her and all Kenyans that Britain will help Kenya. Kenya is one of the worlds most renowned countries for wildlife tourism and tourism generates 12% of the national GDP and employs over 300,000 people. Despite this, the very wildlife that tourism depends on is declining due to land use change, habitat change, land degradation, illegal hunting and trafficking of wildlife products.
Kahumbu emphasized that while new legislation is an important part of protecting the wildlife asset of Kenya but alone it will not be enough. Law enforcement agencies are not currently using existing legislation to it’s fullest extent. She explained that the WildlifeDirect strategy is to initiate a response to the poaching crisis through behaviour change and reform across different scales and through connections between different players from communities to governments and international organizations.
- At the local level we must address communities, and their needs. Poverty amongst park adjacent people makes wildlife vulnerable to habitat degradation and illegal hunting. We think that Kenya’s development plans must prioritize these people so that development is planned in a sensitive way, targeting the communities around protected areas.
- We must make sure that KWS is an agency of excellence. Urgently needed is an assessment of the organizations capacity vis a vis it’s mandate to identify the challenges and current and future needs.
- Institutional: Threats facing wildlife are of security, economic, tourism. social, political and heritage concern. To succeed in protecting Kenya’s unique wildlife asset, we must ensure excellent interactions between different government and non government agencies. This includes strengthening legislation, judiciary, and ensuring compliance and enforcement of the legislation. We must identify the gaps and loopholes being used by smugglers and poachers, and their financiers.This requires an inter-agency approach to fight the poaching of wildlife and trafficking of ivory and rhino horn.
- Kenya alone cannot stop the poaching and trafficking of ivory and rhino horn, it will require an international approach to successfully track the criminal cartels and bring them to justice. It will involve working with international groups such as the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, Interpol and others, and it will require the same level of sophistication that is used to track any other organized crimes.
At the end of a round table discussion with the Kenyan Conservation Community including Save the Elephants, The Tsavo Trust, African Wildlife Foundation Hon Paterson asked what we wanted to see as a conclusion of the Lancaster House meetings in February 2014. Kahumbu said the best outcome would be an agreement by all countries to domestic bans on ivory trade.
What do you think? What would you like to see concluded at the Lancaster House meeting?