School navigation

Hunted to Extinction

September 29, 2014

Lewis & Clark law students experience firsthand the implications of wildlife and cruelty laws in Kenya.

The elegant impala lay limply, caught in the barbed snare, blood trickling from his delicate mouth. Just a few hours earlier, this fleet-footed animal could leap more than 30 feet to escape predators. But he couldn’t avoid the bush snare set by poachers that strangled him to death.

Two armed Kenya Wildlife Service rangers and volunteers from Africa Network for Animal Welfare—along with several Lewis & Clark law students—cut the animal free. Although the students had previously found and removed eight snares, they had missed the one that killed this young antelope. A few students wept quietly as the rangers moved the animal so that poachers couldn’t return to claim the meat and use their lethal trap to kill again.

This was just one of many intense, hands-on educational opportunities that eight Lewis & Clark law students recently experienced as part of the Kenya Legal Project, believed to be the first animal law course taught on the African continent. For two weeks in May, these students—chosen from more than 40 applicants—engaged in a cultural and educational exchange that proved life changing. Over time, the project has the potential to impact the Kenyan legal system in sustainable and positive ways that will help efforts aimed at protecting African wildlife.

Theory Meets Practice

Lewis & Clark Law School is a recognized world leader in animal law. From its modest student-initiated beginnings more than 20 years ago, the Animal Law Program has grown in national and international scope and influence. The program’s leadership includes Pamela Frasch, assistant dean of the Animal Law Program and executive director of the Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS); Kathy Hessler, clinical professor of law and director of the school’s Animal Law Clinic; and Natasha Dolezal J.D. ’06, director of the Animal Law LL.M. Program. Through their textbooks, publications, and speaking engagements, they have advanced the profile of the Animal Law Program around the world.

Lewis & Clark professors and students discussed the enforcement of wildlife and animal cruelty laws with Kenyan prosecutors.Lewis & Clark professors and students discussed the enforcement of wildlife and animal cruelty laws with Kenyan prosecutors.

The law school’s involvement in Kenya is a natural extension of its international work. In 2012, the need for the Animal Law Program’s expertise became apparent when Frasch and Hessler spoke at an animal law conference in Utah and met Deb Durham, a primatologist working with the Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) on preventing animal poaching and trafficking in Kenya. Durham talked to them about how Kenyan animals are being slaughtered at unprecedented rates and how, working together, the law school and ANAW hopt to assist in efforts to stem the tide.

A few months later, Lewis & Clark’s Animal Law Program was contacted by the World Affairs Council in Portland. Working with the U.S. State Department, the council was bringing environmental leaders from African nations and other countries to the States to learn about combating wildlife poaching and trafficking problems. Knowing Lewis & Clark Law School’s strong reputation as a leader in animal law, they asked if Frasch and Dolezal would talk to African representatives about Lewis & Clark’s Center for Animal Law Studies.

Shortly thereafter, one of the center’s supporters called saying he had met with the ANAW, the same group Kathy Hessler had been talking with Deb Durham about. “He wanted to talk about our work and discuss how he could support our collaboration with ANAW,” says Frasch. “All roads seemed to be pointing in the same direction, and we recognized that we had the opportunity to help in an area of intense need.”

Frasch, Hessler, and Dolezal came up with a number of ways Lewis & Clark’s Animal Law Program could be involved to advance student learning and animal law in the United States and in Kenya.

They also discussed the possibility of an animal law course with a field-based component in Kenya.

“At that time, we didn’t have enough information to plan what to do with our students in Kenya,” says Hessler. “We needed to meet with people there and see what they were doing and what they needed, identify good places for our students to visit, and decide what kind of work our students might be able to do.”

In May 2013, Hessler and Dolezal flew to Kenya on a fact-finding mission. It was the beginning of a unique and ongoing international partnership between Kenya and Lewis & Clark’s Animal Law Program.

For Dolezal, traveling to Kenya was a kind of homecoming. While earning her undergraduate biology degree, she had lived in Kenya for six months, working on wildlife conservation and management. “When I returned, I found some of the same challenges remained,” says Dolezal. “Kenya continues to deal with socioeconomic, infrastructure, law enforcement, and judiciary problems. But the same hopefulness was there too.”

Timing Critical

For Kenya, the launch of the Kenya Legal Project comes at an opportune time. As an outgrowth of the country’s revised constitution, adopted in 2010, Kenyans are reforming their judiciary system to increase accountability, credibility, independence, and transparency. They have also amended their Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, expanding its reach and strengthening its penalties. It’s also a critical time for African wildlife. A decade ago, poaching wildlife for bush meat, horn, and ivory was primarily a subsistence crime. Locals killed animals to feed their families or earn a little extra cash. Conservation efforts, including bans on the sale of ivory, had resulted in modest comebacks for many species.

Today, poaching Africa’s magnificent animals is a highly organized operation carried out by heavily armed criminals using drones, helicopters, night goggles, and sophisticated geopositioning tools. The reign of terror against African wildlife is driven by money—lots of money. The rise of the Asian middle class has increased demand for ivory and rhino horn. Black market bush meat is showing up in tony restaurants. Lucrative poaching is funding arms and drugs for terrorist organizations. If the killing isn’t stopped, conservation experts estimate African rhinos and elephants will be completely wiped out in fewer than 10 years.

African Wildlife at Risk

Lewis & Clark Law School’s Kenya Legal Project comes at a critical time for wildlife in Kenya.

Escalation of Violence—As prison terms and financial penalties increase, poachers often turn to violence to avoid arrest. In July, two Kenya Wildlife Service rangers were killed responding to poachers armed with AK-47 rifles in the Kipini Conservatory game reserve on Kenya’s coast.

Plight of the Elephants—According to a recent United Nations Environment Program study, the illegal killing of elephants in Africa has doubled over the last decade, reaching 25,000 in 2012. Meanwhile, the ivory trade has tripled.

Slaughter of Rhinos—Rhino horn sold in major Asian cities is more valuable than gold or platinum, with traders asking $65,000 per kilogram. This past summer, two armed gangs killed four rhinos for their horns in rural Kenya in the worst rhino poaching incident in Kenya in 25 years, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service.

So far in 2014, 22 rhinos have been poached in Kenya, leaving just 1,037 rhinos still roaming private wildlife conservancies and national wildlife parks.

The first surprise for Hessler and Dolezal was realizing that many Kenyans don’t see animal poaching/trafficking as a legal problem. “For them, it’s an economic and social problem,” says Hessler. “We brought this particular blend of animal law and animal legal education to the conversation, and they were quite interested. They felt we could be helpful by training their judges on these issues and starting an animal law course.”

Frasch was invited by the Africa Network for Animal Welfare to present at the Pan African Animal Welfare Alliance Conference in Nairobi, the first conference on animal welfare in Africa. She spoke via satellite, talking about the importance of developing animal law in Africa and strategies for collaboration.

In December 2013, Dolezal also got involved with ANAW in the National Judicial Dialogue on Environmental and Wildlife Crimes. It was the first time Kenyan judges, prosecutors, Kenya Wildlife Service attorneys, customs agents, and conservation NGOs had come together to talk about wildlife issues and crime. Dolezal spoke about the U.S. perspective on wildlife as a legal issue, including the importance of forensic labs to assist prosecutors in winning cases against poachers. She also met with magistrates, and a High Court justice and director of the Judiciary Training Institute, to talk about animal law.

Fieldwork in Kenya

Fundraising efforts enabled the Kenya Legal Project to take eight students to Kenya for two weeks. Students paid tuition and a small fee; donors paid the rest. Later, the Kenya Legal Project also brought two Kenyan magistrates to Lewis & Clark Law School for a month to study animal law.

In preparation for the trip, students in Hessler’s Animal Law Clinic studied Kenya’s Wildlife Conservation and Management Act and anticruelty law, comparing and contrasting them to U.S. laws. “Our students did extensive legal research so that they could share their analysis with ANAW and with the Kenya Legal Project participants,” says Hessler.

The chosen eight also worked hard to get up to speed on Kenyan wildlife issues.

Hessler says the goal wasn’t to arrive in Kenya with preconceived solutions but to “be guided by what they wanted from us.” Lewis & Clark participants came prepared to learn from the Kenyans.

Once in Kenya, the pace for the students, Hessler, and Dolezal was nonstop. They visited wildlife sanctuaries, including one for orphaned elephants, some just a few days or weeks old and not yet weaned, whose mothers had been killed for ivory. For Julianne Zagrans LL.M. ’14, the experience was both sobering and breathtaking. “A baby elephant touched my face with his trunk,” she says. “I found it gut wrenching that elephant calves are orphaned and the adults are killed so their tusks can be made into trinkets.”

Participants visited Makadara Law Courts, where poaching cases are tried, as well as the Supreme Court of Kenya. They learned that, despite some recent positive changes, Kenya’s judicial system is overwhelmed. With too few prosecutors and new judicial reforms, the backlog of cases to be tried is estimated at six years, and wildlife cases must compete with trials for rapes and murders.

For David Rosengard LAW ’15, the experience illustrated that animal law is about more than saving wildlife. “Combating poachers undermines organized crime and terror networks that spread corruption, violence, and misery. Advancing the interests of animals advances human interests.”

Stumbling blocks to prosecuting poaching criminals include lack of forensic evidence and expert witnesses. At the University of Nairobi’s veterinary school, Lewis & Clark law students made presentations to students and faculty, focusing on how Kenyan veterinarians can wield their expertise to help fight poaching and reduce animal cruelty. Moe Honjo, who earned an LL.M. in environmental law in 2013 and an LL.M. in animal law in 2014, was born in Japan and feels a responsibility to change attitudes in Asia that create demand for horn and ivory. Her experiences with the Kenya Legal Project will become part of a book she’s writing on animal shelters around the world. While in Kenya, she was moved seeing a family of 10 wild elephants at Ol Pejeta Conservancy. “They were full of dignity,” she recalls. The scene was in sharp contrast to three elephants that she had seen in chains in Myanmar. “After my experiences with the Kenya Legal Project, I am ready to be the Kenyan wildlife ambassador to Japan and work to stop the ivory and horn trade to Asia.”

Lewis & Clark participants noted strong interest in animal law throughout their travels. At Riara University Law School in Nairobi, for example, the Lewis & Clark presentation on animal law was scheduled for an hour. The Kenyan law students and faculty members were so engaged, the Lewis & Clark students ended up talking for three.

Igniting passion is only one of many outcomes of the Kenya Legal Project. Students like Honjo and Christina Kraemer LL.M. ’14 are taking what they learned worldwide. Kraemer, who was born in Kenya, says her passion for wildlife began in Africa and was fueled by the Animal Law Program at Lewis & Clark. She plans to take her legal skills and fervor to Australia, with the goal of helping the country’s wildlife.

The work in Kenya is far from complete. The country’s Wildlife Conservation and Management Act still needs strengthening and clarification. In addition, judges and prosecutors need more training; forensic labs need to be established; and vets need to learn to preserve and record evidence for prosecution. Lewis & Clark’s Kenya Legal Project is committed to making an impact. With law school approval and successful fundraising, the Kenya Legal Project course will be taught again next year; Kenyan lawyers and judges will receive training from Lewis & Clark to combat poaching criminals; and animal law experts like Hessler, Frasch, and Dolezal will help develop the country’s animal laws and policies.

At a farewell dinner, one of the Kenyan magistrates put the Kenya Legal Project in perspective with her toast: “This experience has been life changing.”

Hopefully, for critically endangered wildlife in Kenya, it will also be life saving.

Award-winning writer Bobbie Hasselbring is a frequent contributor to the Chronicle.

Share this story on

The Chronicle Magazine

Contact Us