Human Journey

In Kenya, Justice Catches Up With Elephant Poacher

This elephant, killed by a poacher, was discovered by Big Life Foundation scouts. Tracker dogs helped locate the man, who was eventually given a stiff jail sentence. Photograph courtesy of Big Life Foundation.

An elephant poacher in Kenya is finally behind bars, thanks to a local magistrate and coordination between the wildlife authority and two conservation partners.

In late 2013, community game scouts undertaking an anti-poaching patrol near world-renowned Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya came across a fresh elephant carcass.

Not surprisingly, the elephant’s two tusks were missing. The scouts, guided by tracker dogs and accompanied by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers, managed to track down the poacher, arrest him, and confiscate the two elephant tusks and python skin in his possession.

Kerumpoti Leyian at the time of his first arrest, with ivory and python skin.
Kerumpoti Leyian at the time of his first arrest, with ivory and python skin. Photograph courtesy of Big Life Foundation.

The pursuit and arrest of Kerumpoti Leyian wasn’t celebrated for long. After posting bail, Leyian failed to show up for his scheduled court appearance and all but disappeared. This was a demoralizing blow to the scouts who tracked down Leyian and recovered the tusks before they could be smuggled abroad, likely to China, where they’d be cleansed of their bloody origin, polished, and carved.

In spite of the setback, the scouts, who operate with a team of tracker dogs under the direction of Big Life Foundation with support from the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), continued to monitor Leyian’s home. They also worked the extensive informant network they’d built up in the area for any tips as to his whereabouts.

Time passed, and it began to seem that here again another elephant poacher had evaded justice.

Then in July, the game scouts received intel that Leyian had returned to his village but was living with a relative. They scrambled and with help from KWS re-arrested Leyian. This time, he was not granted bail.

Law Enforcement Workshop Raises Awareness

In the same month that Leyian was being taken into police custody for a second time, KWS and AWF were hosting a workshop for 35 magistrates, revenue authority officials, immigration officials, prosecutors, and county administrators from districts adjacent to Kenya’s Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks.

The workshop aimed to sensitize attendees to the seriousness and complexity of the illegal wildlife trade, drawing particular attention to the illicit industry’s impact on Africa’s elephants and rhinos.

The workshop also focused on Kenya’s new Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, which six months before had come into force, empowering Kenya’s courts to deal harshly with convicted elephant and rhino poachers and traffickers.

No longer would the country’s wildlife criminals get a mere slap on the wrist for their offenses. Under the new law, anyone involved in the illegal wildlife trade could be hit with a maximum penalty of $233,000 or seven years in jail.

In January 2014, a Chinese man arrested in Nairobi and convicted of ivory smuggling became the first to feel the full brunt of the new law when he was ordered to pay $233,000 or serve seven years in jail.

Many participants in the workshop were not aware of the scale and devastation of the illegal wildlife trade, nor of the harsher penalties allowed under Kenya’s new wildlife law.

They highlighted the many challenges in bringing alleged poachers and traffickers to justice, from poor techniques in evidence collection to a lack of general knowledge among police and magistrates about the new wildlife act.

Magistrate Evans Mbicha (at back in checked shirt with glasses) at the July training workshop. He subsequently sentenced Leyian to seven years in jail.
Magistrate Evans Mbicha (at back in checked shirt with glasses) at the July training workshop. He subsequently sentenced Leyian to seven years in jail. Photograph by Noah Sitati/African Wildlife Foundation.

At the close of the workshop, Honorable Evans Mbicha, a magistrate from Kajiado District, joined his colleagues in vowing to do more to combat the illegal wildlife trade.

From now on, they gave assurance that they would deal sternly with poachers and traffickers convicted of their crimes. When Leyian appeared in Mbicha’s courtroom last month, he was sentenced to seven years in jail.

Power of Partnership

The year-long effort to bring one of Kenya’s elephant poachers to justice highlights two important things.

First, as demonstrated by Kenya’s new wildlife act, Tanzania’s new anti-poaching national strategy, and the U.S.’s national strategy to combat global wildlife trafficking, countries everywhere are prioritizing shutting down the illegal wildlife trade.

The sentencing of Leyian in Kenya comes amid news of the U.S. indictment of two South African brothers for their alleged operation of a rhino horn trafficking ring, suggesting that the law is finally closing in on poachers and kingpins alike.

Second, combating an illicit industry as pervasive and global as the illegal wildlife trade will require partnerships and coordinated efforts at the regional, national, and global level.

Conservation groups bring resources and different types of expertise that can help to extend and enhance the rule of law in many countries—and in the far-flung counties, districts, conservancies, group ranches and chiefdoms—in which they work.

Game scouts on patrol in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem, southern Kenya.
Game scouts on patrol in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem, southern Kenya. Photograph by Fiesta Warinwa/African Wildlife Foundation

The arrest of Leyian could not have happened without cooperation and coordination between Big Life Foundation game scouts and Kenya Wildlife Service staff.

And were it not for the July workshop facilitated by KWS and AWF, Leyian may have been charged with a petty offense and received a lighter sentence.

Leyian’s arrest and sentencing bring attention to some rare successes that often go unreported.

During the past couple of years, anti-poaching patrols have intensified and expanded in certain areas of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, and elephant poaching in those areas has declined as a result.

Wildlife authorities and game scouts on both sides of the border are coordinating their patrols and sharing information and in some cases resources to intercept and track down poachers and traffickers.

Recently, community scouts, magistrates, and others in the law enforcement establishment in Tanzania have requested similar training as that provided to their Kenyan counterparts in July.

Only by working together and joining in smart partnerships will we put the poachers, traffickers, and kingpins out of business.

For the elephants of the Amboseli–Tsavo ecosystem, they can rest a little easier now knowing that one less poacher is stalking them in the bush.

Noah Sitati is Kilimanjaro Landscape Manager for African Wildlife Foundation and Jeremy Goss is Conservation Project Manager for Big Life Foundation, both based in Kenya. AWF and Big Life are working together and with national wildlife authorities in the Amboseli–Tsavo ecosystem of southern Kenya, and across the border in Tanzania with another local NGO, Honeyguide Foundation, to counter wildlife poaching and trafficking.

  • Jan

    YES!!! One locked up is better than nothing. I only wish he was caught before the damage was done.

  • Realist

    Poachers need to be executed. Stop being cowards.

  • Daniel Jost

    Behind bars, oh please… He should be trampled alive by an elephant, before being swallowed and defecated by an African Rock Python – as fertilizer to give meaning to his useless existence.

  • Greg

    with the headline and featured photo, I was hoping to learn that the poacher had been found under the elephant, but the true story is good news, too.


    Also for elephant there is a justice!

  • Aleah

    Poachers should never harm animals again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Dipanjan Mitra

    Kerumpoti Leyian looks like an ordinary person who has been lured into the trade like thousands of others. When are we going to see the real “poachers” who remain behind the scene, being sentenced?

  • Suhas

    Poachers are to be executed without any second thought. Handing them a 7 yr jail term is just wasting tax payers money. Please reconsider!!!

  • Paul

    They should make an example of him! Shoot him execution style in front of live TV.

  • Soul

    What we need to do is hire assassins who’s only assignment id to locate and get rid of those purchasing these tasks.

    This guaranteed to work,

  • Cherie Sward

    How many poachers do you expect to pay the hefty fine? I would think if the ivory is that valuable someone would still be willing to poach and they would take that chance on not getting caught! I think the fine should have not been an option.

  • Radhakrishnan

    I agree with Daniel Jost and Realist. But at least this guy won;t kill for 7 yrs. The Chinese guy who was caught smuggling also should have been given a life sentence and fine. He is the root cause. Sometimes I wonder how the justice system works and ‘how strong the jail bars are’ where Leyan is locked up!!!!

  • Barrie

    A start, just hope other communities take the same action

  • Mary

    Education is what is needed, these poachers are poor and uneducated ! That is only way to save these wonderful animals ,let them know how much we need these magnificent animals

  • Aroldo Villeda

    He should Be Shot

  • brent

    Kill him slowly. Chop off finger by finger

  • Dave.s..

    Brighter lining in the clouds, but hope they can hit the people that dictate prices in the origin countries. Stiff fines and jail time for buyers of the product. Unfortunately this will mean poachers will become more dangerous also.

  • Joey

    Here in my country, we are loosing much of our endangered species, animal, fishes, corals and other because of the GREEDY CHINESE. We need to BOYCOTT CHINESE PRODUCTS and SERVICES!!!!

  • sunil

    Poachers are killing wild animals because they still have interataniol buyers

  • sunil

    Poachers are killing wild animals because they don’t have any other mean to survive, government is failing to relocate them provide them with life sustaining jobs, animals are easy target because they still have international buyers most of them are Chinese, World biggest animal part trading country, lack of education, I can keep on throwing 100 of reasons behind poaching, Only way we can stop this animal trade is by relocating villages near by the forest, educating them about the benefits of wild animals providing them descent jobs and over all tightening up the LAW in African country corrupt Government is the other big issues so extension is for sure not today but may be tomorrow,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  • Alan

    I’m happy to learn more action and severe punishment is directed towards poachers. However if China would step up their effort and implement similar penalties against those involved in the market, demand for ivory would diminish and elephants and Rhinos can live as they should. China will ruin the earth.

  • Rob

    here is an idea… do not allow bail he basically paid for one more year of killing innocent animals. how sad.

  • Felicia

    Are some of you, guys, using justice as an excuse for violence?

  • Barbara

    True justice would be the same for him as he gave to the elephants.

  • patricia singleton

    ditto realist…….


    I am very happy that stronger measures are in place to deal with the horrific poaching. However, I’m surprised that a science based organization (National Geographic) let slip by the phrase: “For the elephants of the Amboseli–Tsavo ecosystem, they can rest a little easier now knowing that one less poacher is stalking them in the bush.” Elephants, or any animals in Africa, do not possess the awareness of the number of poachers or their current status.

  • Majestic Life

    They need to cit his hands off, so this scum can’t commit any more atrocities. Any new poachers should also have their hands cut off. We’ll see how much they’ll be poaching then. Greedy, selfish scum.

  • John

    All poachers should be terminated. No excuses.

  • Irlan

    Poachers should be hunted and killed in the same cruel way they kill the defenseless creatures.

  • Ken

    It’s good to see stiff penalties who are threating the existence of any creature.

  • Naimeesh Mistry

    These magnificent beasts are whats bringing income to Kenya, and I’ve seen them my selves in Amboseli. The Poacher can only rectify himself by joining in the hunt against the people he used to work with.

  • Tracy

    Good!! Don’t these people know or even care that we are defacing the earth, by taking away wonderful majestic creature and the forest in witch they live. We will eave nothing for our children and there children, when will we stop?

  • Karen Cathers

    only seven years! Not enough should’ve been 10 to 15 minimum and then they should be forced to do some type of conservation work for the animals that they’ve destroyed.

  • Mag

    I don’t know why the Chinese want Ivory and Tiger parts for their so-called medicine. What will they use when these animals are hunted to extinction? It’s all about money and those who have it think they can have what they like, they don’t care about anyone or anything except the might dollar, that is their God, and woe-betide anyone who gets in their way.

  • Sabrina Lizares-Sabo

    ALL poachers that are caught should ALL BE EXECUTED !!

  • katie carter

    Well done AWF, KWS, BLF and every single person in between to make this arrest and conviction possible. Now, time to get the other useless specimens of life that hold no regard to the importance of the earth’s creatures.

  • Juan Montoya

    I celebrate, this arrest, but Chinese authorities, should condemn and punish, such actions, to ensure the future of our beloved Elephants!!

  • Ariembi

    it’s good but I think he should have named the buyer of his products or his employer or his clients etc so that the big fish are also charged

  • gigi

    Also the at those days kig of Spain (today’s king’s father) spent his free time killing elephants….could anyone obtain him going into jail, please?!!!

  • Simon Njoroge

    I hope it serves a lesson to his associates including would-be poachers. It’s too late but good job

  • sean


  • kimanzi

    the same kajiado court bt different magistrate released two ivory dealers last wk,why de double standards or it’s only a few magistrates who were sensitized ???

  • Rebecca Lytle

    Yes, it is easy to “dump on the poor blacks in Africa” and anyone else who committs acts of such wanton cruelty. Being poor does not excuse anyone from being accountable, if people have a problem with the penalties for being brutal, nasty, violent and hateful then maybe they shouldn’t do such things, you think? And don’t tell me “there’s nothing else they can do…” because that is a cop-out and a lame excuse, there is ALWAYS something else a person can do, even if it is to do nothing at all. Given the choice between dying and being the cruel and inhuman butcher of any animals, I would happily choose death, and YES, IT IS A CHOICE. I am only sad that this “person” and others like him don’t get executed for their crimes. The world would be a better place without them. Think I’m a racist? Whatever. I actually don’t hate anyone based upon skin color or ethnicity or religion or any of those things, but I freely admit I DESPISE cruelty and those who practice it.

  • Jerry Poling

    You should make it life and NO parole. You might want to add the poachers of Hippo’s As one person remark “if we continuity kill are wild life,” we will only have each other to look at” think about it.

  • vaffangool

    I volunteer for any armed effort to eliminate poachers with extreme prejudice.

  • vaffangool






  • Hugo

    Good Job Keep It Up

  • tim

    Poachers need to be dead and not alive.

  • Tim

    Elephants are important for the ecosystem. If they go extinct everything in the animal kingdom will be disrupted and wrong. Poachers need to be stopped

  • Tim

    Elephants are the gentle giants.

  • Jim

    No one likes poachers!!

  • Rolf Westerberg

    The punishment for poacher are no sufficient The must be taken away all free dom or death penality

  • Uncle Ben

    Dead poachers don’t poach!!

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