Kenya is now enforcing the death penalty for poachers

Kenya’s tourism and wildlife minister, Najib Balala, announced a bold move last year, one with the intention of curbing the country’s serious poaching problem. Activists worldwide had a mixed response to Balala’s plan to execute poachers — most wildlife lovers praised the idea, but several human rights groups spoke out against the death penalty.

Kenya is home to a wide variety of treasured species in national parks and reserves, including lions, black rhinos, ostriches, hippos, buffalos, giraffe, and zebra. Last year in the country 69 elephants – out of a population of 34,000 – and nine rhinos – from a population of under 1,000 – were killed.

“We have in place the Wildlife Conservation Act that was enacted in 2013 and which fetches offenders a life sentence or a fine of US$200,000” Mr. Balala reportedly said. “However, this has not been deterrence enough to curb poaching, hence the proposed stiffer sentence.”

The move could put Kenya in conflict with the UN, which opposes the death penalty for all crimes worldwide. UN General Assembly resolutions have called for a phasing-out of capital punishment, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights advocates its universal abolition. Kenya’s tourism chiefs say poaching has been on a downward trend largely thanks to enhanced wildlife law-enforcement efforts and investment in conservation.

“These efforts led to an 85 percent reduction in rhino poaching and a 78 percent reduction in elephant poaching, respectively, in 2017 compared to when poaching was at its peak in 2013 and 2012 respectively,” the ministry said. Nevertheless, earlier this month two black rhinos and a calf were poached at Meru national park. And the losses are still extremely high, virtually canceling out the overall population’s growth rate, according to the Save the Rhino organization. The charity points out many other African nations also suffer high rates of poaching.

The report of plans for capital punishment prompted sharply diverging reactions, with some social-media users applauding Kenya and calling it “fantastic news”, and others insisting it should never happen. Some say that the authorities should go after kingpin traffickers rather than the “smallest animals in the criminal food chain”.

For years, many people angry at high levels of poaching, linked with lucrative organized crime, have called for the death sentence as a deterrent. Gangs sell elephant tusks for ivory in the Far East, where it is turned into trinkets; rhino horn is believed by some wealthy buyers there to serve as a medicine – even though it is made of keratin, the same substance as human fingernails, so has no health-giving properties.

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