, NAIROBI, Mar 26 – A Chinese smuggler caught in Kenya with a haul of ivory was fined less than a dollar a piece, wildlife officials said on Tuesday.
Kenya Wildlife Service spokesman Paul Udoto said that Chinese smuggler Tian Yi was arrested on Sunday while in transit in Nairobi carrying 439 pieces of worked ivory.
The ivory, cut into finger-length sections and painted brown, was “hidden in a suitcase and mixed with tree bark to disguise it as traditional medicine,” Udoto said in a statement.
Tian – who was arrested as he travelled from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Hong Kong – was on Monday fined $350 (Sh30,000) and has since been set free, Udoto added.
Experts suggest a kilogramme of ivory has an estimated black market value of some $2,500.
Poaching has spiked recently in East Africa but the courts are hampered by sentencing limits that treat smuggling as a petty crime.
Udoto said that officers had “intensified security operations and surveillance” to curb wildlife related crimes.
The illegal ivory trade is mostly fuelled by demand in Asia and the Middle East, where elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns are used to make ornaments and in traditional medicine.
Trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after elephant populations in Africa dwindled from millions in the mid-20th century to some 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.
Africa is now home to an estimated 472,000 elephants, whose survival is threatened by poaching as well as a rising human population that is causing habitat loss.