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Kenya seeks tougher law to fight illicit wildlife trade

NAIROBI, March 3 (Xinhua) -- Kenya plans to review its newly enacted wildlife law in order to seal loopholes that allow illicit trade in flora and fauna, an official from the wildlife agency said on Monday.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Acting Director General William Kiprono told journalists in Nairobi that while the new law stipulates stiffer penalties for wildlife crimes, it still needs to be re-looked.

"Stakeholders are currently reviewing the wildlife law so that it is presented to the attorney general for drafting in the next one month," Kiprono said during celebrations to mark the World Wildlife Day.

The Day is commemorated following the adoption by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) on March 3 as the day set aside to reflect and celebrate wildlife. The Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013, which was assented to in December 2013 and become operational in January, was intended to provide stiffer penalties for wildlife crime.

"However, the new law is only 75 percent effective in combating wildlife crime," the acting director general said. "We want to amend the law so that we can have a comprehensive law," he said.

He noted that wildlife criminals can still take advantage of the law in place as it is still ambiguous.

He said that Kenya managed to reduce the number of elephant deaths in 2013 by 50 percent compared to 2012. "Main causes of death included poaching as well as old age," he said. He noted in 2013, Kenya lost 300 elephants to poachers compared to 384 in 2012.

CITES has classified Kenya, among the eight countries globally of great concern in respect to increased poaching of elephants and illegal ivory trade.

He said that the elephant population is stable and currently stands at approximately 40,000. "However, the rhino population is facing a great threat due to great demand for its horns," Kiprono said.

"There is a myth that rhino horn has medicinal value," he said. According to the KWS, Kenya lost 50 rhinos to poachers in 2013 compared to 30 in 2012.

Kenya boasts of a diverse spectrum of natural habitats ranging from mangroves and coastal estuaries through semi arid plains to highlands forests.

"A combination of these natural habitats forms a rich heritage for Kenya and the entire world. The paradox is that human beings are hell-bent on destroying this rich and beautiful resource," he noted.

Environment Cabinet Secretary Professor Judi Wakhungu said that Kenya's well structured wildlife conservation history can be traced to the days before the country achieved independence.

She added that Kenya currently has more than 50 parks and reserves that are managed by the government. Wakhungu said that private conservancies have also been set up by communities and individuals.

"This encourages the involvement of communities in the conservation and management of terrestrial wildlife and marine resources," she said.

The cabinet secretary added that Kenya ranks among the most endowed countries in Africa as it has over 25,000 species of wildlife and 7,000 species of plants. "However, challenges remain as 75 percent of the country's wildlife lies outside protected areas," she said.

She noted that increased human population has created high demand for land and in the process exerted pressure and wildlife.

"Human encroachment has over the decades shifted to low potential rangelands which coincidentally are the prime wildlife ecosystems," Wakhungu said.

"This has created problems including blocking and fragmentation of wildlife migratory routes," she said.

Environment Principal Secretary Richard Lesiampe said that a multi-disciplinary anti-poaching crack unit is already operational.

"Plans are also underway to recruit more rangers in order to boost security surveillance for wildlife," he said. The PS said that the government is also investigating whether poachers are getting support from wildlife rangers.

"It would be very unfortunate if those who are entrusted to protect wildlife allow anyone to do this," he said.

"We should recognize the intrinsic value of wildlife as well as the many economic and social benefits derived from this resource," Lesiampe said.

KWS Deputy Director Patrick Omondi said that Kenya needs to set aside resources in order to acquire space for the growing wildlife population. Omondi said that the degradation of the environment is also affecting wildlife habitats.

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