Poaching Politics

Poaching Politics

PoachersRichard Leakey’s conservation organization just announced that “poaching rates [in Kenya] have decreased dramatically” and that “Kenya’s elephant populations are now on the rise.”

This is, of course, good news but the May 25 press release was bereft of references or statistics. “Dramatically” needs to be substantiated, and frankly what I intuit here is that wildlife organizations are resyncing to reality: e.g., poaching was never as “dramatic” as had been suggested.

The group, Wildlife Direct, is one of the most respected in Africa. Leakey’s involvement goes way back to when he was the Wildlife Czar for the country in 1989 when poaching really was out of control. More than almost any other individual in Africa, he was instrumental in stopping that horrendous decimation of elephant.

He was integrally involved in Kenya’s collaboration with the U.S. prior to that which created the CITES treaty, which remains the mechanism worldwide for regulating the conservation of endangered species.

The recent Wildlife Direct report that monitored the creation, passage and implementation of wildlife laws in Kenya gives very positive ratings to the system in Kenya now used to prevent poaching.

It points out that many more persons are being prosecuted, including major black marketeer distributors, and that many more have gone to jail and that these represent “significant improvements.”

The group actually credits itself as well, claiming that its courtroom monitoring team is the principal motivation (for the courts, anyway) to implement the laws and put poachers behind bars.

But the battle’s not over, the group points out:

“The team of lawyers also warn that endemic delays and corruption mean that too many criminals are still walking free from the courts… The undermining of wildlife trials by corruption is the elephant in the room.

“Numerous cases are failing due to … the loss of evidence, witnesses fatigue, loss of files, wrong charges, wrongful conclusions, and illegal penalties. What’s worse is that there are no consequences for those involved in undermining these cases.”

Those criticisms apply to almost everything prosecuted in the Kenyan courts. Anyone remember why the President and Vice President of Kenya were let off their International Criminal Court prosecution for crimes against humanity? Loss of evidence, loss even of witnesses.

Wildlife Direct’s actions continue the long and uninterrupted integrity of Leakey’s involvement in all aspects of his native country, and bravo to that.

But when the stats arrive as they must, and as they trickle in from elsewhere in Africa, I think we’ll learn a couple very important things:

First, poaching in the last few years – as horrible as it is – was never as bad as we were told. I wonder how many media groups are publishing this current finding, that things are improving, compared to a couple years ago when anecdotal statistics were used to suggest an apocalyptic decline in elephants.

Second, as the individual stories of poachers get reported — as journalists study those who are prosecuted and jailed — I think we’ll learn that most poachers are ad hoc individuals just trying to survive: Criminals, if you will, forced almost against their will into illegal activity simply to get food and provide for their families.

Poaching is not cut-and-dried, and now we’re learning, it’s not even well documented.