By John Gachiri
Tang Yongjian, a Chinese national, has become the first person used to test the tough new laws meant to curtail rampant poaching that threatens to make elephants and rhinos extinct species.
Late last month Tang had to pay a fine of $233,000 or serve seven years in jail for trying to smuggle 3.4 kilograms of ivory to Guangzhou through Kenyan borders. The illegal stock had been procured from Mozambique.
It was a historic ruling not only because of the magnitude of the fine, but also because it showed that the authorities, who previously just barked about severe consequences, finally bit, and bit hard.
Kenya and southern African countries have been struggling with the poaching menace, which in part has been driven by the influx of Chinese migrants.
The lucrative market in East Asia makes the practice alluring, and some Chinese have ventured into the illegal trade much to the anger of conservationists, government officials and locals.
Their biggest fear is that the dwindling numbers of wildlife will impact tourism, a key revenue source for the country.
Online commentators welcomed the ruling because it showed the government resolved to tackle the activity and it sent a chilling warning to poachers and smugglers, some of whom happen to be Chinese.
The commentators want the government to impose the stiffest possible fines and this may become the norm.
Recently Zhang Chunsheng, a Chinese national who was found in possession of numerous ivory products, has been rearrested, after Kenya's chief prosecutor appealed against a ruling handed to him.
He was arrested while on route to Guangzhou from Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A court fined him $11,600, which the prosecutor has said was too lenient a sentence.
Pundits who are passionate about protecting the dwindling numbers of wildlife admit that the court's punishment is a major step in the battle against poaching, but still want more.
Their worry is that the trade is so lucrative that even hefty fines will still not stop some poachers, smugglers and corrupt official from trying their luck in the illicit trade.
A kilogram of ivory can fetch thousands of dollars on the international market, and this sustains the trade in the tusks.
They say that the assurance of a jail term would be the best remedy against the practice.
Anyway, the fine is a serious sign that the government is taking the issue seriously when one compares it with a sentence handed out a year ago for a similar offence.
Four Chinese immigrants walked away in late January from a Nairobi court after pleading guilty to possession of game trophies, but were slapped with a combined fine of a mere $1,200.
There was harsh criticism and since then Kenya's parliament has passed tougher laws.
Nonetheless, the mischief of a few foreigners has not yet soured the local view of Chinese who are praised for showing that large infrastructure projects on a timely basis, a good price and high quality are possible.
It is much hoped that the harsh sentences will discourage immigrants from poaching and smuggling and potentially ruining the reputation of their compatriots.
The author is a business journalist based in Nairobi. firstname.lastname@example.org