A Narok court has just sent two men who were in possession of ivory to jail for a year each plus a fine. Narok is the administrative headquarters for the world famous Masai Mara area where the wildebeest migration is in full swing. Poaching of elephants and rhino in the Mara threatens a hugely successful tourism industry.
This is the third case in Narok county where jail sentences have been given for wildlife crimes WITH NO OPTION OF A FINE.
Why is this significant? Narok has been the most notorious court where poachers have been getting off on small fines, cases withdrawn and evidence lost, and where corruption is considered “normal”.
The recent high profile case of the arrest of a gang of three including a former KWS officer arrested on suspicion of poaching in the Mara will attract much local attention. The trio had guns, night vision goggles, saws and a GPS presumably with rhino locations logged into it.
WHY IS WILDLIFE CRIME BEING TAKEN SO SERIOUSLY IN KENYA?
First, the campaign HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS is having an enormous impact on public views and reactions. With full page and half page informational advertisements running for a full month has created new discussions. According to one person on the ground “The media attention is making a hell of a difference. Conversations about the attention to this issue are being heard all over, and these conversations include discussions around the fact that magistrates have not been handling cases properly”
Secondly, magistrates are on notice. When justice is not served, the public is appealing sentences which opens up cases in the high court. This scrutiny of rulings and overturning of sentences is an embarrassment to any magistrate and it undermines their authority.
In the Narok case a new precedent has been set.
On 4th May 2013 three men, Daniel Kararon Tasur, Letasuna Sadera and Simpai ole Seki, were arrested in the Mara region with 40kg of ivory estimated to be worth KES 4 million.
They were arraigned in Narok Court and pleaded not guilty on 6th May and then changed plea to guilty on 20th May. They were fined KES 40,000 on both counts or KES 80,000 each. They paid the same afternoon.
This ruling by the Magistrate flies in the face of the recent decisions by NESC, His Excellency President Kenyatta’s speech at his inauguration, and the discussion in Parliament on 23rd May this year.
The case was reviewed in light of the fact that the magistrate could have applied much more punitive penalties under the existing laws
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keriako Tobiko, through his officers took the case up at the Nakuru High Court and the sentences were declared illegal. This means the three will be re-sentenced.
According to a witness “For the first time, someone is monitoring these wildlife crime cases and following up – when before, people used to just go back to business, now the cases are being referred to the top most courts. This has had a huge effect.”
LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL FOR ELEPHANTS AND RHINOS
In the Maasai Mara where elephants, rhino and leopards are being targeted by poachers, the police and the magistrates can no longer sweep cases under the carpet. The high level of government oversight means that the can no longer issue Ksh 30,000 fines. Junior magistrates have to give custodial sentences with no option of a fine because they are obliged to follow the precedent of the principle magistrate.
What people are saying is that the WildlieDirect HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS campaign is reaping real and significant impacts on the seriousness with which the police and magistrates are handling cases, the depth of media reporting and the attitudes of the public at large. We are witnessing moral indignation whenever magistrates fail to deliver justice.
It’s not just the Mara that is benefiting. A court in Kwale also sent two men to jail for poaching elephants.
SOME SECRETS OF THE SUCCESS OF HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS CAMPAIGN
This successful strategy has benefited from the expertise of strategic consultant Helen Gibbons who has worked with WildlifeDirect since October 2012 in critically thinking through the strategys and actions that we could target to make a major difference. Helen is an expert on campaign strategy and her love for elephants makes her contribution many times more significant.
We also thank Shamini Jayanathan from the British High Commission who has provided the legal expertise around maters concerning the law and enforcement. Shamini might as well be an honorary Kenyan and she has provided expertise that has until now been largely absent when it comes to legal matters around wildlife law enforcement in Kenya.
We are also indebted to the team at TBWA have developed the most successful communications campaign on wildlife that Kenya has ever seen through bold and effective messaging that not only informs, but calls Kenyans to action.
We thank them all for the successful beginning of a wonderful campaign.
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