POACHING; THE ENEMY WITHIN

ImageKenya tourism revenues declined in 2012 from a year earlier by 2%. Earnings dropped to sh.96 billion from sh.97.9 billion in the previous year with 1.78 million tourists having visited Kenya last year. Tourism is critical  for this country since it was one of Kenya’s major foreign exchange earning sectors.It contributes about 12% of the Gross Domestic Product and creates over 300,000 jobs. Poaching is emerging as the worst menace for this lucrative sector for the government and indeed all stakeholders. Its through tourism that Kenya has remained on the map for its wild parks including Masai Mara where the seventh wonder of the world takes place.

The worst hit are elephants and rhinos due to the high prices of their products.Last year poachers managed to bring down at least 384 elephants from 289 in the year 2011. In the last eight months of 2013, they have killed 190 elephants, 35 rhinos and 2 forest rangers. Global black market is encouraging many to engage in poaching due to the demand of jewelry, carvings, sculptures and many other akin products. Am told rhino horns are used to cure health conditions associated with reproduction while others are used for aphrodisiac activities.

A rhino horn is going for about $97,000 per kilogram while an elephant tusk would trade at $1,800 in the black market. To make it even more unfortunate, Kenya for a long time has entertained lenient poaching penalties which ironically has encouraged the menace to spread far and wide .The highest fine has been sh.65000 equivalent to about $.775 while most offenders walk away with fines as low as sh.2000 ($24). Many offenders once released go back to commit the same offenses again. Kenya currently has a population of about 35,000 elephants from 167,000 in 1967 and about 500-1000 rhinos.

There is hope at least, recently cabinet passed Wildlife Conservation and Management bill and policy that will not only greatly reduce poaching cases but also streamline wildlife management services. There will be increased surveillance in wildlife zones, and hiring of more rangers and better still, hefty penalties up to one million shilling for poachers. There will also sacking of KWS officials engaging or conspiring with poachers. While this remains good on paper we can only hope for full implementation of the legislation if we want to save and continue savouring our wildlife heritage .

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