In Kenya, there is a rich and varied range of animals ranging from elephants, rhinos, giraffes, to cheetahs and cheetahs. The first two are among the most threatened because of their tusks and horns that make them targets, hunted untiringly by hunters.
In the country, it is illegal to kill endangered animals. And the Wildlife Conservation Act, created in 2013, provides for a life sentence and a fine of $ 200,000 for offenders. But the deaths continue to happen day by day.
Najib Balala, cabinet secretary of the Ministry of Tourism of the country, states that “the current punishments have not achieved the expected result. That is, to stop the hunters. ” This resulted in the announcement of a much tougher sentence for offenders: the death penalty. The move sparked accolades from those calling for a measure with enough impact to save these species from extinction. But also criticism of those who are against the death penalty.
Hunting has declined in Kenya thanks to increased attention given to this subject. And to efforts dedicated to the enforcement of wildlife protection law. Compared with 2012 and 2013, rhino game hunting in the area decreased by 85%. And elephant hunting at 78%. Even with this improvement, the animals are still in danger.
The number of black rhinoceroses in Kenya is below a thousand. While the population of elephants revolves around 34 thousand animals. In 2017, nine rhinos and 69 elephants were killed by hunters. That is enough to “virtually cancel the growth rate of the general population,” according to Save the Rhino.
Elephants are unfortunately one of the hunters’ most sought after targets. For their ivory tusks are used in jewels, decorative pieces, religious statues and other objects in the Far East.
According to the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), up to 70% of traded ivory ends in China. Where it is sold for up to a thousand dollars a pound (450 grams). China has adopted a ban on ivory trade that came into effect on January 1, 2018. But black markets still stand.
Rhino horns are also much sought after by hunters. For popular beliefs preach ignorantly that they would have the power to cure impotence, fever, cancer, hangover, and other medical conditions.
In reality, all this is just empty beliefs. They do not heal any of it, they are made of keratin, even human nail material. Rhinoceros horns are sold for about 30 thousand dollars (approximately 100 thousand reais) a pound (450 grams). According to AWF in the rhythm of deaths that have been going on by hunters, elephants, rhinos and other wildlife species will be extinct in a few decades.
Hunting in Africa is a result of organized crime syndicates, which “use state-of-the-art technology and high-powered weapons to track and kill many undetected animals,” the AWF says.
Night vision goggles, grenade launchers and AK-47s, GPS and low-altitude helicopters are all equipment used in killing.
In a unique effort to counter these offensives, in addition to making hunting a crime punishable by death, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) also plans to increase the number of wildlife crime fighters.
Currently, only two prosecutors are responsible for the whole country. But announced projects expect the number to be increased to 14, allowing criminals to be properly prosecuted. The move was only possible thanks to a collaboration between Kenya’s Public Prosecutor’s Office and the wildlife conservation organization Space for Giants.
“Now not only can the KWS catch the hunters who wipe out Kenya’s wildlife, how can it be ensured that these criminals are convicted under the laws of the country.” Said Max Graham of Space for Giants.
A critical step in the battle
“A guard in the exercise of his function should never have to experience the frustration of confronting a hunter trapped by him a week earlier, walking free again because of an acquittal. This is a critical step in the battle against illegal wildlife trade, “he says.
Some animals, such as black rhinos, are so critically endangered that the remaining populations were sent to shrines under the protection of armed forest guards.
Some Kenyan guards are already working equipped with advanced technology, such as infrared and thermal cameras, both portable and equipped to their cars. The cameras allow them to identify hunters and animals by the heat of their bodies almost two miles away.
“In the past, we would never have found these people,” says Brian Heath, an activist, and director of the Mara Conservancy wildlife conservation group. “Now the hunters are saying there’s no point in hunting. Because the chance to be caught is getting bigger and bigger.
These measures have become a major obstacle to the action of criminals. “ In other areas, such as in South Africa, where most of the rhinos live, they were flown from prone areas to safer places such as Botswana.
What is the future of rhinos and elephants threatened with extinction?
Another threat to the rhinos and elephants besides hunting is the loss of habitat. Estimates indicate that these species and other large herbivores, such as hippos, are in only 20% of the numbers they once represented in Africa.
These species require large tracts of land to inhabit and have difficulty surviving in fragmented areas. But their habitats are being destroyed by human occupation including contraction of highways, areas occupied for livestock, food crops, etc.
What would the world be without elephants and rhinos? The best would not even have to go through it. But this would be a devastating loss as both species provide valuable benefits to the environment. Elephants, for example, disperse seeds in their feces while traveling over long distances. And rhinos graze in large amounts of grass, helping to keep them short and facilitating access to food to impalas, wildebeest, and zebras.
Through their urine and feaces, elephants and rhinos also leave sources of nutrients concentrated in the environment. Bringing benefits to the whole landscape.
As for what the future holds, many are hopeful that Kenya’s stance against hunting will turn the country into a global conservation leader on the continent, helping to save these magnificent species.