Elephant Poachers Will Face More Rangers, Tougher Sentences In Kenya

Elaine Radford

Elephant poachers must pay a higher price for their operations in Kenya, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). The government released a statement today that said KWS would add 1,000 more rangers to their parks in order to protect the animals. Kenya has already lost 74 since the start of the year.

Over the past couple of years, the eyes of the world have been drawn to central Africa. There, a well-organized professional team of Arabic-speaking men who travel on horseback has killed hundreds of forest elephants and left the dead bodies to rot. The team is allegedly from the Sudan and may employ as many as 300 men.

With elephant ivory prices near an all-time high, the team has threatened the forest elephant populations with extinction in the Central African Republic, Cameroon, and Chad. A single 2012 attack in Cameroon killed over 300, but it was the bold slaughter in mid-March of 86 more in nearby Chad which caused the three nations to band together in a plan to get high-tech equipment to put a stop to the poaching.

But there's also an elephant crisis in east Africa. As with the central African attacks, the poachers boldly enter national parks, kill the animals, and chop off their tusks for the ivory. In January, there was a worldwide outcry when a gang of poachers entered Kenya's Tsavo East National Park, where they slaughtered an entire family of 11 elephants.

Kenyan official Muthui Kariuki said that outdated penalties for wildlife smuggling are part of the problem. "The government is concerned about this and has facilitated the process of reviewing the wildlife law and policy with a view to having more deterrent penalties and jail terms," he said.

According to Kenya government officials, the price of elephant ivory has exploded from roughly $150 a kilogram to $1,000 a kilo. On Wednesday, custom officials in Mombasa, Kenya's major port city, found a container holding an estimated $1.2 million in elephant ivory bound for Indonesia.

Yet, despite the huge sums to be made, the current law in Kenya caps the penalty for smuggling at a trifling $450. As a result, a judge fined a Chinese smuggler last month less than $1 each for 439 pieces of ivory -- a mere $350.

Here is a portion of a long herd of 108 elephants, mothers and their calves, that I observed with a small group in Kenya's Masai Mara National Park in 2004. A friend who is a long-time experienced hawk counter actually counted up all of the elephants.

elephants in Kenya 2004

Wouldn't you agree that such an amazing spectacle is well worth protecting from the elephant poachers?

[wild elephants in Kenya's Masai Mara in 2004 photo by Elaine Radford]

[elephant poacher's tusks photo courtesy Joe Mercier via Shutterstock.com]