NAIROBI, Kenya – Africa is getting tougher in its fight against poaching. New laws with stiff penalties, more military training for rangers and new technology like drones with thermal cameras are all helping to protect rhinos and elephants. A new law in Kenya that increases penalties for killing tourist-attracting safari animals is already bearing fruit.
A Chinese man accused of trying to smuggle ivory in a suitcase was arraigned in a Nairobi court this week. Under the law that came into effect on Jan. 10 and that the Kenya Wildlife Service had spent years lobbying for, the man could face up to life in prison and a $230,000 fine. In the past, such poachers and smugglers could walk out of court with a fine of less than $1,000.
“They have to think twice now,” Paul Mbugua, the spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service, said of poachers and the new law. “You just try your luck on the poaching, but the moment we catch up to you, you are done.”
Kenya’s new law is being paired with increased training and deployment of advanced equipment.
Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy will deploy drones later this year to help protect rhinos. Parks in Tanzania and South Africa are also increasing their use of surveillance drones. In South Africa’s massive Kruger National Park, where hundreds of rhinos are killed each year, rangers are hunting for poachers using a former military helicopter and night-vision equipment provided by a private company.
Poachers killed around 280 elephants in Kenya last year, a huge number but down from 2012, when 384 were killed. Kenya’s elephant population is estimated to be around 35,000. Other countries in the region, namely Tanzania, have seen tens of thousands of elephants killed over the last couple years. Wildlife experts estimate between 20,000 and 30,000 African elephants are being killed every year.
Home to most of Africa’s rhinos, South Africa lost 1,004 to poachers last year.