By Noah Sitati
An elephant poacher in Kenya is finally behind bars, thanks to a local magistrate and coordination between the wildlife authority and two conservation partners.
In late 2013, community game scouts undertaking an anti-poaching patrol near world-renowned Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya came across a fresh elephant carcass.
Not surprisingly, the elephant’s two tusks were missing. The scouts, guided by tracker dogs and accompanied by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers, managed to track down the poacher, arrest him, and confiscate the two elephant tusks and python skin in his possession.
The pursuit and arrest of Kerumpoti Leyian wasn’t celebrated for long. After posting bail, Leyian failed to show up for his scheduled court appearance and all but disappeared. This was a demoralizing blow to the scouts who tracked down Leyian and recovered the tusks before they could be smuggled abroad, likely to China, where they’d be cleansed of their bloody origin, polished, and carved.
In spite of the setback, the scouts, who operate with a team of tracker dogs under the direction of Big Life Foundation with support from the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), continued to monitor Leyian’s home. They also worked the extensive informant network they’d built up in the area for any tips as to his whereabouts.
Time passed, and it began to seem that here again another elephant poacher had evaded justice.
Then in July, the game scouts received intel that Leyian had returned to his village but was living with a relative. They scrambled and with help from KWS re-arrested Leyian. This time, he was not granted bail.
Law Enforcement Workshop Raises Awareness
In the same month that Leyian was being taken into police custody for a second time, KWS and AWF were hosting a workshop for 35 magistrates, revenue authority officials, immigration officials, prosecutors, and county administrators from districts adjacent to Kenya’s Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks.
The workshop aimed to sensitize attendees to the seriousness and complexity of the illegal wildlife trade, drawing particular attention to the illicit industry’s impact on Africa’s elephants and rhinos.
The workshop also focused on Kenya’s new Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, which six months before had come into force, empowering Kenya’s courts to deal harshly with convicted elephant and rhino poachers and traffickers.
No longer would the country’s wildlife criminals get a mere slap on the wrist for their offenses. Under the new law, anyone involved in the illegal wildlife trade could be hit with a maximum penalty of $233,000 or seven years in jail.
In January 2014, a Chinese man arrested in Nairobi and convicted of ivory smuggling became the first to feel the full brunt of the new law when he was ordered to pay $233,000 or serve seven years in jail.
Many participants in the workshop were not aware of the scale and devastation of the illegal wildlife trade, nor of the harsher penalties allowed under Kenya’s new wildlife law.
They highlighted the many challenges in bringing alleged poachers and traffickers to justice, from poor techniques in evidence collection to a lack of general knowledge among police and magistrates about the new wildlife act.
At the close of the workshop, Honorable Evans Mbicha, a magistrate from Kajiado District, joined his colleagues in vowing to do more to combat the illegal wildlife trade.
From now on, they gave assurance that they would deal sternly with poachers and traffickers convicted of their crimes. When Leyian appeared in Mbicha’s courtroom last month, he was sentenced to seven years in jail. More....