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Space for Giants’ eyes on the court wins quick conviction

Zachary Mboya (case 1159/2015) watches as SRM Philip Mutua prepares to convict him of illegal possession of wildlife trophies contrary of Section 95 of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013, and sentence him to pay 1 million fine or 5 years in prison

Space for Giants has helped a Kenyan court convict a man found illegally with ivory after tracking down a key witness whose lack of testimony was delaying the prosecution.

Zachary Mboya was found guilty of possessing 600g of elephant ivory and sentenced to a $10,000 fine – equivalent to at least eight years of his earnings – or a five year prison term. He was arrested when wildlife rangers found him with the tusk pieces inside a national park.

His case had dragged on for more than a year because a key witness – a police officer – had been reassigned to a new post in another part of Kenya, and court officials were struggling to track him down.

Faith Maina, Space for Giants’ new court monitoring officer, noticed the hold-up and alerted Shamini Jayanathan, our director of wildlife protection, who called contacts at the national police authorities in Nairobi. The officer was soon found and brought to court in Nyeri in central Kenya to give his crucial testimony.

Less than 10 days later, the case, which had been stalled for months, was concluded.

Senior Resident Magistrate Philip Mutua found Mboya not guilty of planning to sell the ivory, but guilty of illegally possessing it. Using Kenya’s powerful new Wildlife Act, he sentenced him to a hefty fine, or five years behind bars if he cannot pay. He had two weeks to appeal.

Mboya’s was one of 29 wildlife crime cases that Faith is monitoring in half-a-dozen courtrooms around central Kenya. Another involving a woman found with 7kg of tusks concluded on March 10, with her also being convicted and fined $10,000.

Among the other cases are one from 2015 of a man found with two massive tusks together weighing 93kg and another with four tusks of 50kg. But there are also cases involving very small amounts of illegal animal parts: one man was found with only 500g of ivory, and another with 85g of rhino horn.

“The fact that Mboya was given an appropriately strict sentence despite being found with what might be seen as a very small amount of ivory shows that Kenya, like an increasing number of African countries, refuses to accept any leeway when it comes to wildlife crimes,” said Shamini.

“They are sending strong messages to everyone in Africa that there is no benefit from the trade in Africa. China and the US have sent the same messages by outlawing all trade in ivory.”

There have been a string of recent high-profile arrests and convictions of major poachers in East Africa. Kenya jailed Feisal Mohamed, a Kenyan kingpin, for 20 years last July. Earlier this month, Tanzania sentenced a notorious poacher named ‘The Devil’ to 12 years in prison. He was featured in the Netflix documentary The Ivory Game.

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Faith, Space for Giants’ court monitoring officer, removes Mboya’s case from those she’s monitoring