KWS seeks stiffer penalties to curb poaching

The government has been urged to fast-track the passing of the Wildlife Bill that provides for more deterrent sentences.

According to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), lack of stiffer penalties for wildlife-related crimes had greatly hampered the fight against poaching.

The Wildlife Act was created in 1975 but the punishment was put in the main body of the Act itself, and not under the Regulations. This meant that the Minister could not review the punishments from time to time. KWS Director Julius Kipngetich noted that the fines that were no longer punitive. “The punishments meted out on offenders are like a slap on the wrist,” said Kipngetich.

He said that Parliament had not amended the Wildlife Act significantly except in 1989 when it was amended to create the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). In 2006, the Wildlife Bill was reviewed and taken to Cabinet where some changes were made to it was but it got stuck.

Efforts have been made to realign the Bill to the constitution and the punishments have been removed from the main body and put under the Regulations. This allows the Minister from time to time to enhance the punishment in consultation with the Attorney General, without waiting for it to go to Parliament.

The Bill proposes the splitting of KWS into three entities: policy formulation, regulatory Authority and the KWS. The policy formulation wing would remain at the Ministry of Wildlife while the Kenya Wildlife Regulatory Authority will set standards for both State-run KWS and other private conservancies. KWS will remain to manage national parks, carry out research and law enforcement.

He wondered why all suspects arrested with ivory or any other game trophies had to be represented by a specific lawyer and only taken to a particular court in Nairobi. “The suspects always admit and the fine is always Sh10,000,” he adds.

Dr Kipngetich said that KWS was sure of winning the war against poaching, assuring Kenyans that the elephants were safe. “The Attorney General has given the KWS the authority to have their own internal prosecutors and so far we have 5 prosecutors,” he revealed. They will use the Economic Crimes Act because Kenya’s economy is dependent on wildlife and such crimes were sabotaging the economy.

However some experts say that the success of the new Bill will largely depend on implementation, claiming that poaching is still rampant even in some countries with stiff penalties for poaching and strong wildlife laws.

Police on Thursday last week seized 115 pieces of elephant tusks believed to be worth millions of shillings bound for Nigeria at the Imports Section of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. The consignment was packed in 14 steel boxes, wrapped in cartons with the ivory sprayed with pepper which security officials believe was meant to prevent sniffer dogs from detecting the ivory.

Kenya currently has 65 tonnes of ivory in stores and Dr Kipngetich said that KWS plans to construct a museum next year to display some of them. He also appealed for inter-agency collaboration to fight the crime, and at the same time commended the members of the public for their cooperation saying that the recovery at the airport was due to a tip-off by a member of the public.

KWS has now deployed sniffer dogs at the airports on a full-time basis, and is now engaging in massive force modernisation, strengthening of investigations, enhancing policing of exit and entry points especially airports, seaports and other border points.