NAIROBI, Kenya — Conservationists around the world expressed outrage with the light punishment four Chinese citizens received for attempting to smuggle tens of thousands of dollars worth of ivory out of Kenya. Qu Rongjune, Xuefeng Liu, Gu Guisheng and Wang Chengbang were apprehended at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with several decorative pieces of ivory in their possession, as well as 21 pounds of raw ivory. Their punishment? Each was allowed to pay a $340 fine and then go free.
Writing for Outdoor Life magazine, professional hunter Gayne C. Young said, “While the war on ivory poaching has most of the world — and almost all of Hollywood — up in arms, the battle seems to matter little to some in Kenya.”
As reported by Yahoo! News, even the magistrate who handed down the sentence expressed disappointment, saying it was unacceptable that poaching in his country “is still considered as a petty offence.” He insisted that punishments should be increased to “reflect the gravity of such matters,” but this is unlikely, because government elections are coming in the near future.
Kenya took a hardline stance against hunters in 1977 and banned all sport hunting. At the time, conservationists hoped the move would protect the country’s elephants and other threatened species. Yet Kenya’s elephant population has plummeted since 1977 because the country treats poaching as a minor offense.
Even as the illegal ivory trade reaches record levels, Kenyan officials are hesitant to enact tougher laws to protect the wildlife that are so crucial to the country’s safari-based economy. “The increase of illegal ivory trade is most definitely linked to the lack of stringent punishment for offenders,” said Lindy Taverner of the African Wildlife Trust.
In neighboring Uganda, where sport hunting is still legal, poachers are punished on the same level as violent criminals. Government officials there are currently amending the Wildlife Act to ensure that poaching punishments carry a minimum $75,000 fine and 10-year prison sentence.
These significant penalties are viewed as a necessity in the midst of what the New York Times has referred to as “an epic elephant slaughter.” Organized crime has entered the African ivory trade, and aided by corrupt officials, smugglers have created brutally efficient channels for the ivory to reach markets in Asia and the Middle East.
Many conservationists fear that unless Kenya changes its lenient laws, the country’s safari animals face a dark future. “Prison sentences and fines are meant to deter poachers,” said Taverner, “but the financial rewards they receive are significantly greater than the relatively small financial, physical, or psychological risks involved.”
Grant Olsen joined the ksl.com team in 2012. He covers travel, outdoor adventures and other interesting things. Contact him at email@example.com.