By Nina Decoularé-Delafontaine
In June 2014, Satao, a famous and beloved 45-year-old Kenyan elephant, was shot with a poisoned arrow in Tsavo National Park in Kenya. Poachers cut off his large tusks and left his face and body mutilated almost beyond recognition. His death is one of many examples of the vivid problem of poaching in Africa: elephants for their ivory, lions for sport, rhinoceros for their horns, gorillas for their meat and so forth. The extent of poaching is reaching tragic dimensions. More than 100,000 elephants were slaughtered between 2010 and 2012, according to National Geographic, and wild elephants could very well disappear within 20 years if no urgent measures are taken. Ivory and rhino horns have huge monetary value because of escalated demand in Asian countries. There, ivory is not only carved as an art but is also considered a material with medicinal properties. As highlighted by Foreign Affairs Magazine, “[T]he price of a kilo of rhino horn has surpassed the approximate prices of a kilo of gold, a kilo of platinum, and a kilo of cocaine in the United States”. The ivory trade even funds terrorist groups in some central African countries like Sudan.
Countering the consistent population decline of big wild animals in Africa is an urgent issue. Not only is it an environmental issue, but it is an economic one as well. As reported by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), wildlife watching represents “80 percent of the total annual trip sales to Africa […] with that share only increasing”. As animals disappear, millions of tourists in Africa could potentially disappear with them. Moreover, the process of wildlife extinction already threatens ecosystems by impairing the balance between different types of fauna and their local habitat. For example, the potential extinction of elephants, which are highly important seed dispersers, endangers tree diversity and affects other animals along the food chain.
In order to stop this dramatic evolution, countries have taken a number of steps to combat wildlife crime. During the Fall 2015 semester, the International Law and Development in Africa (ILDA) Clinic at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice undertook a preliminary assessment of the legislation to address wildlife and forest crime in three East African countries: Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. The purpose of this was to review the countries’ participation in the various international treaty regimes; domestic wildlife and forest offenses and related crimes, such as corruption and money-laundering; and key regional and voluntary initiatives in which they have been involved. The Clinic found that considerable efforts were underway to combat wildlife crime in all three countries, as well as key areas in which additional efforts are necessary to protect vulnerable species in these important range and transit countries.
Let us take Kenya as an example of the status of laws governing wildlife crime in Africa. With the adoption of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act (WCMA) in December 2013, Kenya reaffirmed its commitment to wildlife protection and conservation. This new legislation criminalizes, inter alia, the killing or capture of protected animal species for sport, the killing or capture of protected animals without valid authorization, and the killing or capture of wild animals in protected areas (including game reserves and national parks). Furthermore, the new law introduces a significant increase in both custodial and financial penalties for wildlife crimes. These penalties range from a minimum 30 thousand KES fine (approximately $300) and 6 months imprisonment to a minimum 20 million KES fine (approximately $196,000) and life imprisonment. The new WCMA is a significant step forward, and further efforts are underway to further ensure the effective protection of Kenya’s wildlife.
Further implementation of legislation is needed for Kenya to realize the full potential of the WCMA, including, for instance, for Kenya to fully implement its obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which aims to regulate trade in endangered species. The WCMA grants the Kenya Wildlife Service the authority to regulate the import and export of wildlife products and specimens, but a precise regulatory framework for wildlife trade is left for supplementary legislation or regulations to follow.
Aside from focusing on implementation, countries working to curb wildlife crime could also strengthen laws governing related crimes. For example, Kenyan laws on related offences such as money laundering or organized crime do not impose minimum but only maximum penalties. These are relatively low compared to the profit made by poachers. For instance, the tusks of one elephant are worth double the cost of a fine for participating in an organized criminal activity. Strengthening these laws could not only help in the fight against poaching, also bolster the rule of law overall.
Moreover, a successful approach to wildlife crime will be collaborative and inclusive of local communities who interact and live side-by-side with animals at risk of being poached. This includes raising awareness about the issue and the benefits of wildlife, tackling poverty, creating economic opportunities and ensuring that local communities derive benefits from sustainable wildlife management. Community-based conservation and community-based resource management can play an integral role in combating poaching and wildlife trafficking.
The protection of wildlife in Africa is a considerable challenge affecting both the environment and local communities. The road ahead is long and daunting, but we must work to collectively create and sustain momentum. Otherwise, we will have to bear the responsibility and consequences of Africa’s iconic wildlife violently disappearing into the annals of natural history.
Nina Decoularé-Delafontaine is a LL.M. student in International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School. She participated in the International Law and Development in Africa Clinic at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice in the Fall of 2015.
The views expressed in this post remain those of the individual author and are not reflective of the official position of the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, Fordham Law School, Fordham University or any other organization.
Photo Credit: Glenna Barlow/Creative Commons