Chinese ivory smuggler hit with record fine under new law

New law sees Nairobi court impose US$230,000 penalty on man caught with one tusk at airport

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 9:39pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 7:47am


A court in Kenya yesterday slapped a record sentence on a Chinese ivory smuggler, the first person to be convicted under tough new laws designed to stem a surge in poaching.

Tang Yong Jian, 40, was ordered to pay US$230,000 or go to jail for seven years.

He was arrested last week carrying an ivory tusk weighing 3.4 kilogrammes in a suitcase while in transit from Mozambique to China via Nairobi, and pleaded guilty to the charges. He has 14 days to appeal.

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 said, 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 Tang had pleaded guilty and expressed remorse, but insisted that "he cannot claim ignorance since the ivory trade is a major cause of concern internationally".

Hours earlier, another Chinese man was arrested at Nairobi airport with three ivory necklaces, two ivory bracelets, 10 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.

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 US$10 billion a year, continues to be fuelled by demand in Asia and the Middle East.

Ivory is sought after for jewellery and decorative objects, while Asian consumers continue to buy smuggled rhino horn - which is composed of keratin, the same material as human fingernails - believing that it has powerful healing properties.

Under the new Kenyan law, which came into force a month ago, dealing in wildlife trophies carries a minimum fine of US$11,000 or a minimum jail sentence of five years, or both.

The most serious wildlife crimes - the killing of endangered animals - now carry a penalty of life imprisonment.

Watch: China takes big step in fight against illegal ivory trading