“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahtama Gandhi
Kenya has made significant strides to ensure that perpetrators of wildlife crimes in the country are met with tough, harsh penalties as laid down in the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013 (WCMA).
The legislation which came into force in January 2014 put the threshold of evidence admissible in a court of law high considering the marching penalties. The need to effectively prosecute cases of animals poaching, trophy trade and trafficking continues as offenders continue to engage in unlawful activities and trade.
Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA) in partnership with the USAID PREPARED Program trained 159 rangers drawn from 12 conservancies in the Greater Mara Ecosystem on how to use the WILD App to collect data on wildlife sightings, illegal activities, conduct patrols and report findings on a daily basis. MMWCA recognizes that first responders to wildlife crime mostly from local communities, are rangers or people with inadequate capacity to handle scene of crimes without distorting evidence.
“The training will help equip rangers with necessary skills needed to effectively collect evidence that can be used to link offenders, prosecute and punish those found culpable of wildlife crimes. These are geared towards comprehensive protection of Kenya’s national heritage.” Notes Stephen Kisotu – Technical Manager, MMWCA.
The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in collaboration with Space for Giants and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) have come together to increase the number of specialized prosecutors to 14 from the current two.
Several shortcomings identified by the MMWCA have become apparent to the manner first responders handle their law enforcement mandate. These include:
– Contamination of evidence due to poor handling and preservation.
– Unpreparedness of the first responders in courts of Law.
– Limited knowledge of the provisions of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013
– Lack of Crime Scene Management Skills
– Drafting of defective charges
– Lack of knowledge on DNA Analysis and its role in investigation to prosecution
MMWCA in partnership with AFEW have embarked on a project “Building capacity of community conservancies’ rangers’ for effective management of wildlife crime scenes in the Greater Maasai Mara Ecosystem, Narok County Kenya.” The project hopes to train wildlife rangers drawn from the established 14 conservancies on crime scene management and preservation of evidence admissible in a court of law.
Poachers have gone to great lengths to hire best legal expertise available in a bid to defeat criminal liability. Defenders of wildlife have one option, to go higher and come out strongly and one of these ways will be to take forensic science seriously and build capacity across board to deter wildlife offenders.