By Sharon Van Wyk
In China the penalty for poaching an elephant is death. In Africa, it is considerably less. The irony in this is that the global trade in illegal ivory is driven, for the most part, by China, some of whose citizens are helping to lay waste to Africa’s elephants, largely without fear of retribution.
Earlier this year a Chinese smuggler, apprehended in Kenya whilst in transit from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Hong Kong, was fined a mere US$350 for the haul of 439 pieces of ivory found in his possession before being released. That’s less than US$1 apiece.
This one incident illustrates perhaps the biggest challenge facing those battling to save Africa’s elephant population from almost certain extinction at the hands of ivory poachers – outdated, and in some cases woefully inadequate legislation and penalties which, rather than acting as a deterrent, actually encourage poaching.
Add to the mix corruption and political malfeasance at virtually every level of government, and the word extinction looms larger than ever, unless swift action is taken by African countries to improve the laws supposedly protecting their wildlife. Justice is most certainly not on the side of elephants.
In Kenya the current wildlife act caps punishment for the most serious wildlife crimes at a maximum fine of 40,000 Kenyan shillings (around US$470), and a possible jail term of up to 10 years. With a black market price of as much as US$7,000 per kilogram, it is infinitely affordable to get caught with your fingers in the ivory jar. Which is what happened to four Chinese citizens who were apprehended attempting to smuggle thousands of dollars’ worth of ivory out of Kenya. Their punishment? Each was allowed to pay a US$340 fine and then go free.
Kenya is far from alone. In neighbouring Uganda, poachers are punished on the same level as petty criminals with small fines or suspended sentences. More....