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- The shooting of the rhino in the heavily guarded Nairobi park illustrates how easily poachers are decimating the country's large animals
Poachers have slaughtered a rhino in Nairobi National Park, officials said Sunday, as the brazen attack came despite tough new laws designed to stem a surge of such killings.
Amid a wave of rhino and elephant killings across the country, the shooting of the rhino in the heavily guarded park - the headquarters of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) - illustrates how easily poachers are decimating the country's large animals.
"Nairobi National Park is one of the best protected areas, so it is a really shocking thing for us," KWS spokesman Paul Udoto told AFP.
"The rhino horns were hacked and taken away... investigations are underway."
Kenyan courts have for years had their hands tied by laws that limited their powers over those convicted of wildlife crimes, but a new wildlife act signed into law this month has provided far stiffer penalties.
Previously, punishment for the most serious wildlife crimes was capped at a maximum fine of Sh40,000, and a possible jail term of up to 10 years.
Some smugglers caught in Kenya with a haul of ivory were even fined less than a dollar a piece.
New laws have massively increased the punishment, with poachers now facing fines of as much as Sh20 million and possible life in jail.
MAJOR RHINO SANCTUARY
Nairobi's national park, which lies just seven kilometres from the tower blocks of the bustling centre, is described by KWS as "a unique ecosystem by being the only protected area in the world close to a capital city".
Poachers killed a rhino in the park in August in a similar attack, escaping with the horn, the first such attack for more than five years.
It is a major rhino sanctuary, and its previously believed secure environment - fenced in for much of its 117 square kilometres - was seen as ideal for breeding and restocking other parks.
Poaching has risen sharply in Africa in recent years, with rhinos and elephants particularly hard hit.
Asian consumers who acquire smuggled rhino horn - which is made of keratin, the same material as human fingernails - believe that it has powerful healing properties. (READ: Rhino poaching nearly outpaces births, group warns)
Last year Kenya started inserting microchips into rhino horns. Wildlife officials plan eventually to microchip all rhinos in the country, just over 1,000 animals altogether.
Kenya is also a key transit point for ivory smuggled from across the region.