Hunting endangered animals in Kenya may soon lead to a death sentence.
A law is being fast-tracked for approval which would make the killing of any endangered creature in Kenya punishable by death. Najib Balala, Kenya’s Tourism and Wildlife Minister, has warned that reforms are being made to existing legislation in a concerted effort to protect Kenya’s wildlife by enforcing a stricter penalty for poachers.
Currently, the Wildlife Conservation Act provides for a life sentence or a maximum fine of $200,000 (USD) for offenders. Mr. Balala reportedly advised China’s Xinhua’s news agency that the existing legislation has not acted as an effective deterrent to organized poachers, leading to the suggested reforms. The announcement was reportedly made at the official launch of the northern white rhino commemorative stamp ceremony held at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Mount Kenya. The stamps are being released in honour of “Sudan” the world’s last male northern white rhino, that died on March 19 from natural causes. Two female white rhinos remain in Kenya, and are the only northern white rhinos living in the world.
Kenya’s economy is dependent on the preservation of its wildlife reserves and national parks, as tourists flock to the country to partake in safari adventures and observe the several endangered animals and species that are unique to the country, including the African Lion, the Grevy’s Zebra and the African Elephant.
Despite the already strict penalties associated with poaching, Kenya has suffered losses of some of its most valuable wildlife. In the last year nine Rhinos were killed, from a total population of 1000, and 60 elephants were poached. While the numbers are lower than previous years, poaching is still seen as a significant threat that is leading to the destruction of the population’s growth rate. Organized crime, and the international value of illegal rhino horns results in a continuously threatened rhino population in Kenya.
While the preservation of endangered species is a laudable goal, the proposed legislative changes has sparked a mixed response of both praise and concern about the most severe punishment in the world for such a crime.
Amnesty International has criticized the move, stating that “poaching is undoubtedly a real scourge in Kenya but [the death penalty] would be a wildly disproportionate response…the Kenyan authorities should of course work to combat the trade in illegally-killed animals, but setting up a whole new system of judicial killings for humans is not the way to go about it.”
Similarly, the UN opposes the use of the death penalty as a sanction for any crime committed worldwide.
Other concerns relate to the fact that the harsher penalties should be given to the leaders of criminal organizations that are responsible for orchestrating and profiting from large poaching efforts, as opposed to the (mostly poor, vulnerable) individuals who actually carry out the killing, and who generally do so due to conditions of poverty and economic hardship.
Support for the law comes from those who welcome the change as necessary to resolve the emergency situation of declining endangered populations and wildlife.
Whether the law eventually receives approval or not, we hope the remaining endangered animals remain protected and preserved.