The Cabinet has proposed stiff penalties to curb poaching in a bid to protect endangered species, hundreds of jobs and billions of shilling in foreign exchange.
In a meeting held last week, the Cabinet approved the new Wildlife Conservation and Management Bill and Policy, which seek to raise fines on poaching to Sh1 million.
The proposed penalty by far exceeds the current level where people caught with ivory worth millions of shillings only end up with fines as low as Sh40,000.
“The Cabinet directed that the measures be fully implemented to bring to a stop cases of poaching in the country and streamline management of wildlife services,” reads part of a brief dispatched after last week’s meeting.
Elephants, lions, buffalos, rhinos and leopards (Big Five) in national parks and game reserves are top attraction for millions of tourists who visit Kenya every year. Tourism is a top foreign exchange earner and it employs more than one million people.
Under the uncertain political environment prevalent in the country and economic instability abroad, tourism recorded Sh96 billion in earnings last year, a drop of 1.9 per cent from the 2011 level.
Over the same period, international visitor arrivals dropped from 1,822,900 the previous year to 1,710,800 last year.
Under the new Bill, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Kenya Police Service will set up an inter-agency security team to track down bandits in wildlife sanctuaries, including private conservancy areas.
Last week, the cabinet asked KWS to sack personnel colluding with poachers and immediately recruit 1,000 additional rangers to boost surveillance.
Once operational, the new Act will give KWS the powers to search any vehicle or vessel suspected to carry wildlife specimens or tools and weapons used in poaching. KWS will also have powers to name and publicly shame offenders and to confiscate property acquired through proceeds of poaching.
The move comes two weeks after Deputy President William Ruto promised private sector players that the government would fast-track the Wildlife Bill curb poaching of Big Five.
“The new law will make poaching a capital offence, attracting life sentences for killing wildlife,” Mr Ruto said.
The proposed penalty is, however, lighter than the Sh10 million or 15-year jail term that MPs have proposed as amendment to the current Act.
The amendments brought to the floor of the House late last month by North Horr MP Chachu Ganya sought to raise the severity and treatment of wildlife crime in Kenya to the level of organised crime.
Experts have backed the amendment pending in Parliament saying it would slow down the poaching menace.
“We are thrilled at a step toward a much more severe treatment of wildlife crime and trust it will serve as a major deterrent to criminals and a model for other countries,” Philip Muruthi, chief scientist at the African Wildlife Foundation said in a statement.
Kenya has been on the forefront of defending the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of (CITES) but cases of poaching have been on the rise due to weak laws.
Dr Muruthi said: “It is our job to be stewards and protectors of these vulnerable species, and today, Kenya has once again shown its leadership for the conservation of our planet.”