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Combating marine turtle poaching

 

Marine turtles are iconic and ancient creatures. They are long lived and slow maturing, taking decades (between 20 and 30 years) to reach sexual maturity, but only about one in 1,000 successfully hatched babies makes it to adulthood.  Life as a turtle is tough! But we’re doing everything we can to safeguard the future of these incredible species.

The survival of marine turtles is threatened by predation, pollution, climate change, habitat alteration on nesting beaches, incidental catch associated with fishing, and trade and consumption of marine turtles and their products. Marine turtles are traded, nationally and internationally, for their meat and eggs for food, their skin for leather goods and their shell for carvings. Of all the marine turtles, hawksbill turtles are the most sought after for their shells – and this exploitation has sadly led to a serious decline in their numbers.

Baby turtle leaving nest © WWF/Mike OlendoBaby turtle leaving nest © WWF/Mike Olendo

Some marine turtle products are traditionally believed to have medicinal or aphrodisiac properties, or repel evil spirits. These cultural beliefs and practices remain strong in parts of Kenya and are a key driver for the trade and consumption of marine turtle products, despite such activity being illegal.

Anecdotal information suggests that levels of marine turtle poaching in Kenya are increasing and that’s a really worrying trend – especially given the small number of marine turtles that make it to adulthood in the first place. Low prosecution rates, and even lower rates of successful convictions, mean that deterrents against this kind of wildlife crime have, to date, been weak.

Combating wildlife crime requires a multi-pronged approach which includes: addressing underlying drivers of the threat, such as challenging cultural beliefs which encourage the use of turtle products; creating incentives for non-consumptive use of turtles, such as providing income generating opportunities though tourism; and strengthening disincentives for poaching by enhancing implementation of wildlife crime law and ensuring effective prosecution and conviction. Our work in Lamu seascape addresses each of these areas – and much more – but in this blog I wanted to focus on the disincentives for poaching.

Baby turtle makes the sea © WWF/Hassan BwanamkuuBaby turtle makes the sea © WWF/Hassan Bwanamkuu

In Kenya, the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act (2013) provides the legal framework to take legal action against those committing wildlife crime. Most recently we’ve been working with the Kenya Wildlife Service to ensure that its rangers understand the Act and have the necessary skills to successfully prosecute and convict wildlife crime offenders.

Last month, with the support of funding like that of players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we helped to provide 27 rangers working in Kiunga Marine National Reserve, Malindi Marine Park, Watamu Marine Park, Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Park, Coast Conservation Area Headquarters and Mombasa Marine Park – all areas where the poaching of turtles is a challenge – with training in judicial processes and prosecution procedures and techniques. Rangers were also trained in crime scene management, exhibit handling and packaging, statement recording, and drafting of charge sheets. Rangers working in the field can collect crucial information which can determine whether or not a conviction can be made.

Rangers in training © WWF/Lily MwasiRangers in training © WWF/Lily Mwasi

As a result of the training, over the next few months we hope to see a reduction in the poaching of marine turtles, as well as higher conviction rates when poaching incidents do occur. Following on from this training, we’re going to be working with the judiciary arm of the government to ensure that they are implementing laws relating to wildlife crime to their full extent. More on that in future blogs!

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