NANYUKI, July 9, 2018 (Space for Giants) – The conviction rate for people taken to court for wildlife crimes in North Central Kenya is nearing 70% after judicial and prosecution authorities improved trial processes, new research from Space for Giants has found.
National conviction rates for all wildlife crime had almost quadrupled from 24% to more than 80% since the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act of 2013 was enacted, Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko told the recent Giants Club Summit.
Space for Giants, an international conservation organisation based in Nanyuki, found a corresponding increase in convictions in elephant ivory, sandalwood, and rhino horn cases between 2014 and 2018 in the ten courts it surveyed for a new report published today.
They were High Courts in Nyahururu, Nanyuki, Meru, Chuka, Embu, and Nyeri, and Magistrate’s Courts in Isiolo, Karatina, Karaba, and Runyenjes. All are close to important conservation areas that are home to 60% of Kenya’s 23,000 elephants, three-quarters of its white rhinos, and well over half its black rhinos.
Nyahururu and Nanyuki have the highest number of reported wildlife crime cases, the survey found, suggesting they play a key geographical role in terms of poaching and wildlife trade within the region.
In total, 67% of suspects accused of wildlife and forestry crimes in North Central Kenya whose cases concluded during the survey period were convicted. The 75 cases surveyed over the five years related to seizures of 755kg of elephant ivory, 22.5 tonnes of endangered East African sandalwood, and 7.0 kg of rhino horn.
Possessing or intending to deal in elephant ivory made up 84% of the cases. Those that concluded during the study led to fines totalling 19.5 million Shillings, or prison terms totalling 65.5 years. The 75 cases involved 126 accused people, all Kenyans, and 91% of them men.
“The list of improvements we found in these courts is long, and growing,” said Shamini Jayanathan, Space for Giants’ Director of Wildlife Protection, who co-authored the report with Katto Wambua, the organisation’s Senior Criminal Justice Advisor.
“They include more detailed witness statements, more complete evidence inventories, accurate charge sheets, and dozens of new KWS scene-of-crime officers whose evidence, including photographs of every crime scene, is having a huge impact.
“Kenya is moving forward on ambitious reform in its police, prosecution and judicial institutions, and the results of that are starting to be seen. The law is on its way to becoming the real, robust deterrent against wildlife and forestry crime that it should be.”
The report, Analysis of Prosecutions of Ivory, Rhino Horn and Sandalwood Crime in North Central Kenya – A Case Study, grew out of Space for Giants’ wildlife justice programme. Its team tracks cases from arrest to conclusion, including monitoring trials. It also provides support to both prosecution and investigation authorities upon request, and has published a suite of wildlife and forestry crime advisory guides, including on sentencing, legislation, court surveys, scene-of-crime investigations, and collecting evidence.
Beyond providing a baseline for prosecutions specific to North Central Kenya, the report will inform stakeholders involved in the criminal trial process about the successes and continuing challenges of prosecuting wildlife and forestry crime cases.
While progress is taking root, there was still room for improvement, the survey found.
Overall the prosecution of ivory, rhino horn and sandalwood cases is a long and protracted process in North Central Kenya. Of the 75 cases studied, 47 were still ongoing as the study ended.
Ivory cases on average take 20 months from start to completion, and will endure an average of five adjournments, mostly for ‘court not sitting’, witnesses not appearing in court, and the absence or lack of preparedness of the defence advocate.
“It is difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for this but poor investigations, understaffed prosecution stations, case backlog and corruption are all likely factors,” Ms Jayanathan and Mr Wambua wrote in the report.
There were also concerns that magistrates were handing out only the minimum sentences – mostly the minimum fine with imprisonment only if the fine was not paid. Almost three-quarters of all concluded ivory cases were met with this format of sentence.
“The practice of issuing a fine, with imprisonment in default, does not sufficiently deter serious offenders. It can result in the rich, the well-connected, or those who are valuable to an organised criminal network, effectively paying their way out of a prison whilst the poor, unconnected individuals who are lower down the hierarchy of an organised criminal network, go to prison,” the survey authors wrote.
“Such an approach and potential impact does not serve the interests of justice in the long run as such fines become just another business cost that organised criminal networks will budget for.”
The survey noted, however, that some sentences were now being passed which are exclusively jail terms or a jail term and a fine.
The report recommends that the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act is amended to address deficiencies relating to offences and penalties, its failure to distinguish between live species and trophies, the definition of ‘trophy’ itself, and other issues.
It also calls for greater cooperation between the National Police Service, KWS, and the Kenya Forest Service, more training especially with a comprehensive wildlife crime curriculum, digitising the recording of court proceedings, better forensic capacity, and improved exhibit store rooms, among other recommendations.
For more information, or to arrange interviews with the report’s authors, please contact Joan Wandegi, Space for Giants Media and Communications Manager, on firstname.lastname@example.org or +254 721 560 202.
Click here to read the full report.
ABOUT SPACE FOR GIANTS
Space for Giants is an international conservation organisation that protects the great wildlife landscapes that Africa’s remaining elephants need to thrive. It protects elephants from immediate threats like poaching, while working to secure their habitats in landscapes facing ever-increasing pressures. Everywhere it works, in Angola, Botswana, Gabon, Kenya, Namibia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, it uses science and best-practice to inform its approach. It develops and delivers anti-poaching initiatives, secures protected landscapes for elephants, works to lessen the problems that arise where people and elephants live alongside each other, and finds new ways to reach new audiences with stories of conservation. It is headquartered in Kenya, and registered as a charity in the UK and a non-profit in the US. See www.spaceforgiants.org for more details.