With a booming demand for rhino horns and ivory in recent years, poaching wildlife in Africa has become devastatingly lucrative business. This year in Kenya alone, some 21 rhinos and 117 elephants have been butchered to feed that demand, their parts fetching a high price on the black markets of Asia.
But now, in a step to counter the illicit incentives of illegal hunting, the Kenyan parliament this week approved to significantly increase the penalties for poachers caught robbing the nation's most precious natural heritage for their own financial gain.
Poachers can now expect to face fines up to $120,000, along with jail sentences of 15 years. Prior to the measure, the legal consequences of poaching seemed rather paltry, resulting in fines of $480 and 2 years in jail.
"Kenya's elephants declined from 160,000 in 1960s to 16,000 in 1989 due to poaching. Today Kenya is home to only 38,500 elephants and 1,025 rhinos," said MP Chachu Ganya on the parliament floor. "These animals are a major tourism attraction and anyone who threatens them is committing economic sabotage and should be treated as such."
Increasing the penalties for poachers is just one of the measures Kenya has taken recently to curb the practice and protect wildlife. In addition to security forces assigned to patrol wildlife reserves, aerial drones fit with infrared thermal imagining devices are also being deployed to monitor parks from overhead, particularly a night when poachers are most active.
Sadly, despite ongoing efforts to reduce poaching, the problem has hardly quelled as rhinos and elephants across Africa have been pushed either to extinction, or alarmingly close. It may be too soon to tell whether Kenya's harsher penalties will prove an effective deterrent, but it certainly is a step in the right direction and hopefully a model for other nations to follow.