The reason why elephants are going extinct may have something to do with a trial in Cameroon against twin brothers accused of killing more than 100 elephants in Central Africa. What is most striking about this story is that these brothers — Symphorien Sangha and Rene Sangha — have been arrested before and never served a day in jail. Now, with over 100 dead elephants to their credit, they are only looking at a maximum of three years in jail. Indeed, Symphorien Sangha was found guilty of killing elephants and wounding a forest ranger. He will receive 10 years for wounding the ranger but no more than three years for killing a huge number of elephants and a long record of poaching. With a deterrent level of that kind, it is astonishing that any elephants remain alive.
To make matters worse, Rene Sangha worked as a forest ranger and is believed to have provided information that helped his brother kill elephants while evading the police. The prosecutor is quoted as saying that “Poachers will be deterred, and this is going to reduce the threat and the pressure on wildlife species, especially elephants.” While I celebrate the arrest of these two brothers, I cannot share the same confidence. Poachers make considerable amounts of money in poor countries from poaching. The threat of serving less than three years (even if you are a serial poacher) is hardly a deterrent.
A common theory of deterrence holds that it is established in the relationship between detection rates and the level of punishment. If detection rates are low, deterrence can be established through high levels of punishment since the rational actor considers both factors in considering unlawful conduct. That is obviously not applicable to crimes of passion or individuals who act impulsively. However, it is a useful measure in circumstances like these were detection rates are extremely low. Yet, so is the level of punishment. The result is unlikely to be the deterrence level predicted by the prosecutor in my view.
What do you think?