By Tom Odula
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A Kenyan court on Tuesday sentenced a Chinese man to seven years for ivory smuggling in the first case since the country passed a stringent new law to deter illegal trading in wildlife products.
The 40-year-old man, Tang Yong Jian, had pleaded guilty to charges of illegally possessing and dealing in ivory. To avoid jail, he has the option of paying a fine of about US$230,000.
Jian was arrested at the international airport in the capital, Nairobi, on Jan. 18 as he traveled from Mozambique to the Chinese city of Guangzhou. He carried 3.4 kilograms of raw ivory in his suitcase, according to wildlife authorities in Kenya.
The case had been closely followed by conservationists who are trying to save the country's engendered wildlife species, which are often targeted with the help of corrupt local officials.
Paul Muya, a spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service, said the decision Tuesday would deter potential smugglers and poachers.
"We welcome this sentence. It's the first of its kind since the enactment of the new wildlife (law), and we are sure this is will pass a deterrent out to would-be poachers to ensure we can now therefore save the endangered species in this country," he said.
Kenyan authorities hope the new law, which came into effect this month, will reverse years of gradual loss of wildlife populations through rampant poaching. Poaching deaths of elephants and rhinos are increasing across Africa, animal experts say, because of increased demand in Asia for rhino horns and elephant ivory.
Even as Jian was being sentenced, another Chinese man was in police custody after being arrested Monday night over alleged ivory smuggling. That man —31-year-old Chunsheng Zhang —was traveling from Congo to China when he was arrested at the Nairobi airport, according to wildlife authorities.