A court in Kenya has slapped a record fine on a Chinese ivory smuggler, the first sentence handed out since Kenya introduced a tough new anti-poaching law last year.
Tang Yong Jian, 40, was ordered to pay $233,000 or else go to jail for seven years.
He was arrested last week carrying an ivory tusk weighing 3.4kg in a suitcase while in transit from Mozambique to China via Nairobi, and pleaded guilty to the charges. He has 14 days to appeal the sentence.
It's very motivating for our rangers to see poachers lose a lot of money and spend long terms in Kenyan prisons.
A spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service, which manages the country’s celebrated national parks, said the ruling would give a much-needed boost to wildlife protection efforts.
“It’s a landmark ruling that sets a precedent for those involved in smuggling,” Paul Udoto told the AFP news agency, saying stricter sentences would make the “killing of wildlife a high-cost business”.
“It’s a remarkable precedent,” he said, explaining that the fact that smugglers were previously punished with “a slap on the wrist” was demoralising for park rangers who are frequently outnumbered and outgunned by organised and well-paid poaching gangs.
“It’s very motivating for our rangers to see poachers lose a lot of money and spend long terms in Kenyan prisons,” he said.
Delivering the sentence, magistrate William Oketch noted that the accused pleaded guilty and expressed remorse, but insisted that “he cannot claim ignorance since the ivory trade is a major cause of concern internationally.”
Hours before the sentence was delivered, another Chinese man was arrested at Nairobi airport in possession of three ivory necklaces, two ivory bracelets, ten pendants and two rectangular blocks of ivory.
The passenger was in transit from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Guangzhou when he was arrested, and claimed he bought the items innocently, airport police detective Joseph Ngisa said.
Poaching has risen sharply in Africa in recent years, with rhinos and elephants particularly hard-hit.
Ivory trading was banned in 1989 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an international agreement between governments, but the illegal ivory trade, estimated to be worth up to $10bn a year, continues to be fuelled by demand in Asia and the Middle East.
The most serious wildlife crimes, the killing of endangered animals, now carry penalties of life imprisonment, as well as fines of up to about $233,000.
Previously, punishment for the most serious wildlife crimes was capped at a maximum fine of $465, and a possible jail term of up to 10 years.
Some smugglers caught in Kenya with a haul of ivory were even fined less than a US dollar apiece.