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Suspected Ivory Smuggler Arrested in Nairobi

Kenyan Wildlife Service rangers display elephant tusks seized in Nairobi from a suspected smuggler who says the 19 ivory pieces came from Tanzania, March 31, 2013. (KWS)
Kenya’s Wildlife Service says a suspected smuggler was arrested in Nairobi Sunday with 19 pieces of raw ivory. Police apprehended a Kenyan man in the Easteigh neighborhood of Nairobi transporting ivory in a pickup truck.

According to a KWS spokesman, police had been tracking the suspect for some time.

“It is from our intelligence gathering," Paul Udoto said. "It is somebody we had followed up until we finally caught him with what we were looking for.”

The suspect said the ivory came from Tanzania, though he has not indicated where it was heading. He will be arraigned in court on Tuesday.

Elephants across Africa are increasingly under threat from poachers, driven by insatiable demand for ivory decorations in Asia. The price of ivory on the black market can go above $1,000 per kilogram.

Conservationists say tens of thousands of African elephants are killed each year, many at the hands of well-armed and ruthless poaching militias. Organized criminal gangs are also believed to be behind international smuggling rings.

Kenya’s wildlife officials have been calling for tougher laws to penalize convicted poachers and smugglers. The current wildlife regulations have not been altered since 1989, while poaching incidents have soared in the last few years.

Udoto hopes the country’s new lawmakers, elected last month, will take the problem seriously.

“We are really pushing that the incoming government gives priority to passing much more stringent laws that have stiff penalties for such," Udoto said. "As it is now, the penalties are really slaps on the wrist.”

In March, a Chinese smuggler caught with 439 pieces of ivory at the Nairobi airport, on his way to Hong Kong, was fined only $350 (30,000 shillings).

The 50-year-old suspect pleaded guilty, paid the fine and has been set free.

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