By FRANKLINE SUNDAY
Only 4 per cent of offenders convicted of wildlife crimes in Kenya go to jail.
This is according to a study conducted by wildlife conservation groups on wildlife-related crime and prosecution in Kenyan courts, which will be presented to the office of the Chief Justice today.
The study, which analysed court records of cases pertaining to wildlife-related crime in 18 courts, reveals that poaching cases are treated with leniency with the majority of perpetrators paying token fines despite the severity of their crime.
“Between January 2008 and June 2013, a total of 743 pending and closed wildlife-related cases were registered in criminal registries of several law courts across the country and of these only 4 per cent of the offenders convicted of wildlife crimes went to jail,” reads the report in part.
The report further states that in cases of offences against elephants and rhinos, which can potentially attract jail sentences of up to 10 years, only 7 per cent of offenders were jailed.
According to lead author of the report Dr Paula Kahumbu, who is also the executive director of Wildlife Direct, poachers in the country are getting more brazen owing to the lenient fines.
“We make it easy for poachers and dealers to operate in our country and this leniency in our courts has led to a culture of impunity within the criminal fraternity,” she said.
“Kenya has become a safe haven for international criminal cartels that control poaching and trafficking in our country and we hope that this study triggers an immediate government response to address the problem,” she said.
The new findings come barely two weeks after the enactment of Kenya’s new Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013.
The new law, which came in effect on January 10, has increased the penalties to be meted out to convicted poachers and traffickers particularly those found dealing with endangered species.
Some of the provisions of the new law include a minimum fine of Sh20 million or life imprisonment for offenders against elephants, rhinos and other endangered species.
Two days ago, a Chinese national convicted of ivory smuggling was the first to be sentenced under the new law.
Tang Yong Jian, who was arrested at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with 3.4kg of ivory in his suitcase pleaded guilty to the offence and was handed a fine of Sh20 million or a seven-year prison sentence.
According to the report, however, corruption particularly among government wildlife custodians makes it difficult to rein in on poachers and public officials who collude with poachers.
“Though there were frequent news reports of KWS officers being arrested for involvement in these crimes, the study did not find a single verdict that highlighted this problem,” reads the report.