Are life sentences or large fines sufficient deterrents?
Najib Balala tourism and wildlife minister annouced on the 26th February 2019 the proposal of implementing the death penalty in Kenya.
Currently the Wildlife Conservation Act 2013 provides for protection, conservation and management of wildlife in Kenya, It was finally passed with WWF having coordinated the input of environmental civil society organizations views and a culmination of efforts spanning over 15 years’ to get a comprehensive and all-inclusive legislation in place and that came into force on January 10th 2014. This prohibits poaching and anyone found poaching will land a possible life sentence or a whopping $200,000 fine but this doesn’t seem to be an effective deterrent, Najib Balala wants to completely eradicate poaching, which of course is understandable.
Poaching is actually on the decrease with the ministry claiming that poaching has been on a downward trend largely thanks to enhanced wildlife law-enforcement efforts and investment in conservation leading to an 85% reduction in Rhino poaching and a 78% reduction in elephant poaching in 2017 compared to when poaching was at its peak in 2012-13.
Has poaching actually decreased?
The two African rhino species – black rhino and white rhino – have both increased in number in recent years thanks to successful conservation efforts, especially in South Africa. Indeed, the white rhino has been brought back from the brink of extinction.
However, both species are again at risk due to a huge surge in poaching to meet demand for illegal rhino horn, primarily in Asia. Countries and conservationists are stepping up their efforts but record numbers of rhinos are currently being killed.
Save the Rhino website (savetherhino.org):
African elephants are split into two distinct species: the African Bush elephant, the most prevalent species, and the smaller African forest elephant.
From 2003-2014, with the exception of 2005, CITES reports have shown that estimated levels of illegal elephant killings in Central Africa have been occurring at unsustainable levels relative to natural population growth which means that elephants in this region are dying faster than they are able to reproduce. Studies suggest that elephant poaching is slightly higher than Rhino poaching which may be due to both males and females having tusks that can grow to weigh dozens of kilograms rather than Rhinos only having one horn and only present on males.
So it seems that poaching is decreasing but this does not mean that the endangered species are safe, in it only in relation to their abundance that poaching is decreasing; just recently in the media on the 19th February the so called ‘Chinese Ivory Queen’ a was jailed in Tanzania and given a mere 15 years in jail for operating one of Africa’s biggest ivory-smuggling rings, responsible for smuggling $2.5m (£1.9m) worth of tusks from some 400 elephants.
This exemplifies how much an issue poaching still is and why perhaps the Wildlife Minister Najib Balala thinks the death penalty may be the only way forward however, this move could put Kenya in conflict with the UN, which opposes the death penalty for all crimes worldwide and the UN General Assembly resolutions have called for a phasing-out of capital punishment, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights advocates its universal abolition.
What are my thoughts on this?
You cannot both be passionate about the conservation and learn about it via further education without covering the ongoing crisis in Africa via poaching. African conservation was covered in one of my modules in university but I am still learning about the complexities of this issue day by day. I have always felt strongly about animal welfare and I do think that animals are more important than humans as we are over populating the planet and destroying everything in its path. I hate how people are killing these wonderful animals for such stupid reasons, no one needs ivory except the animal it belongs to, there is no evidence that ivory can help with any medical condition and there is no need to use ivory as ornaments anymore when there are plenty of man made materials to use instead and when the material isn’t as widely available as it was, like fur in this country it shouldn’t be used. Agreeing to the death penalty could be perceived as agreeing that an animals life is more valuable than a humans life, and to this I agree. These animals are more valuable than us and are a significant part of this wondrous landscape. To the death penalty however, I can fully understand the reasoning but I do not agree, I think perhaps the time and effort should be spent on added security via ports and exit routes where the ivory is exported, more security and staff hired to protect the national parks and species within it, harsher sentences for those caught poaching (like the ivory queen), investment in education and investment in local communities so they do not participate in poaching activities or allow others to do so and a significant investment in valuable habitats rather than agricultural practices and deforestation caused by supplying palm oil. I think the death penalty should only be used if all other factors haven’t worked.
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