E. Africa lawmakers seek harmonized legislation to curb poaching

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The East African lawmakers have approved a resolution calling on their governments to enact harmonized and an all-inclusive legislation to stem widespread poaching in the region.

The resolution by the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), moved by Kenya's lawmaker Abubakr Ogle, also seeks to categorize wildlife crimes and poaching as a criminal act punishable by imprisonment.

"We are deeply concerned that the East African Community (EAC) region, especially in Kenya, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania, has become a source of illegally trafficked ivory or a major transiting point for ivory from other countries and represents at least 64 per cent of the total volume of ivory seized around the globe," the EAC legislators' resolution reads in part.

The resolution comes barely a month after African envoys resolved to enact strong and enforceable legal framework to help control rising poaching on the continent.

The ambassadors who held a meeting in Kenya organized by Kenya's Mission to the UN Office at Nairobi (UNON) were also unanimous on the need for the African Diplomatic Corps (ADC) to strongly take up the issue of combating poaching.

In a resolution read on Aug. 19, the African ambassadors termed this as yet another chapter in which a more assertive Africa that seeks to implement solutions to its own challenges comes together.

The EALA resolution also comes in the wake of reports that Tanzania is losing around 30 elephants per day while Kenya loses two daily.

Worried by the killing of 200 elephants in Kenya this year, conservationists now warn that if nothing is done the animal species will be extinct in the next 10 years.

In another statement issued on Tuesday in Nairobi, Dr. Paula Kahumbu, the executive director at Wildlife Direct, a local conservation NGO, said, "The declining number of elephants was attributed to the illegal killing for ivory in the context of an international trade."

She said elephants live for an average of 50 years, therefore poachers and dealers in ivory should be charged damages for the loss in the tourism economy.

"Regionally, the laws are weak and the fines low compared to the damage. For instance, in Kenya, if elephants were valued to the tourism economy at 50 billion shillings (572 million U.S. dollars) per year, then each elephant represents approximately 17, 100 dollars per year.

While presenting the resolution at the EALA, Ogle noted that investment in wildlife law enforcement was inadequate to deal with emerging threats as a result of increase of criminal cartels.

The lawmaker stressed that the EAC has a role to play in halting the trade, adding that no African elephant range is immune to the ongoing killings of elephants to feed the ivory demand in the Far East.

The Kenyan legislator at EALA reiterated that a workable solution to the crisis is needed.

The regional legislators also urged Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda to categorize elephant poaching and ivory trafficking as an economic crime and a national and regional crisis.

The lawmakers urged the five EAC member countries to cooperate to identify wildlife crime hotspots and conduct coordinated investigations and undertake joint crackdown on corruption while eliminating any corrupt tendencies that abet poaching of elephants for their ivory.

Experts argue that consumer demand in Asia has spurred demand for ivory resulting in mass elephant slaughter, where organized crime groups poached large amounts of ivory all at once.

For example, a professional Sudanese poaching gang killed more than 200 elephants in northern Cameroon in early 2012. This weekend, in Zimbabwe, 41 elephants were killed in a mass poisoning.

According to the statement, Tanzania and Uganda have already enacted new legislation with elevated penalties for wildlife crimes in response to the crisis facing elephants.

Kenyan authorities have proposed a 25-fold increase on the fines imposed on poachers to over 115,000 dollars and a prison sentence of not less than 15 years from current penalties of between 230 to 115,000 dollars and imprisonment of between 1 to 3 years for each offense.

It is hoped that once Kenya's proposed Wildlife Conservation and Management Bill 2013 is passed into law, it will add more weight to courts in tackling poaching.

Kahumbu lamented that although 78 percent of poachers in the country are arrested, only 5 percent ever go to jail because "the fines are far too low in Kenya," meaning that for poachers, the reward is much greater than the risk.

She urged the EAC member states to emulate Botswana which recently announced it will ban trophy hunting on public lands beginning in 2014, while Zambia has recently banned any hunting of leopards or lions, both of which are disappearing across Africa. Endi

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