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  • Kenya's current Cabinet Secretary for Tourism Najib Balala has reportedly announced the implementation of the death penalty for wildlife poachers.

    Kenya's current Cabinet Secretary for Tourism Najib Balala has reportedly announced the implementation of the death penalty for wildlife poachers. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Published 27 February 2019
Opinion

“We have in place the Wildlife Conservation Act that was enacted in 2013 and which fetches offenders a life sentence or a fine of US$200,000,” Cabinet Secretary for Tourism Najib Balala said.

Kenya's current Cabinet Secretary for Tourism Najib Balala has reportedly announced the implementation of the death penalty for wildlife poachers, causing a wide spectrum of response. 

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Tourism officials credit augmented law-enforcement and conservation efforts, which have led to an 86 percent decline in rhino poaching and 79 percent decline in elephant poaching. Balala has said that the current deterrents in place against wildlife poaching are not adequately protecting the country's wide variety of species, which includes lions, black rhinos, ostriches, hippos, buffalos, giraffes, zebras and the recently spotted rare black leopard.

If the law, which Balala warned would be fast-tracked into legislation, is passed, poachers will face capital punishment.

“We have in place the Wildlife Conservation Act that was enacted in 2013 and which fetches offenders a life sentence or a fine of US$200,000,” Balala said. “However, this has not been deterrence enough to curb poaching, hence the proposed stiffer sentence."

Out of a population of 34,000 elephants, 69 were killed in the country last year. Out of a population of fewer than 1,000 rhinos, nine were killed. Three rhinos are poached every day across the continent, and losses are high enough to cancel out population growth, according to a report by the Save the Rhino organization.

Organized poaching is a highly lucrative criminal operation, and is currently the largest threat to big game wildlife. Capital punishment would mean the most intense penalty in the world for the crime, which is supported by some but considered extreme by others. According to Amnesty International, this would also signal a shift from Kenya's efforts to eradicate the death penalty in the country. 

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If the new law is passed it could also potentially put Kenya against the United Nations, which has urged for a worldwide elimination of the death penalty. 

Others have called for authorities to target higher-ups in trafficking circles, pointing out that small-scale poaching criminals often do so out of experiences of poverty and benefit less from selling animal products than kingpins do. 

While the threat of poaching is undeniable, animals are also being affected by habitat depletion, climate change, and disease. Half of all individual animal populations have been devastated to the point of extinction in recent decades.  

If the new Kenyan poaching law is passed, the short-term threats to wildlife may be addressed, but uncertainty still looms for the long-term threats that lead to endangerment and extinction. 

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