By Titus Kakembo
Rich armed poachers are costing East Africa millions of dollars in illegal ivory trade. The illegal trade is mostly fuelled by demand in Asia and the Middle East, where elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns are used in traditional medicine and to make ornaments.
Uganda and her sister states in the East African region account for 68% of the illegal ivory trade in the world, according to a 2012 report released at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered species (CITES) at Bangkok, Thailand.
Uganda is mostly a conduit route for ivory from neighbouring countries such as the DRC, Tanzania and Kenya.
An elephant gives birth to a single calf after 22 months. Today there are 140,000 elephants in East Africa.
Uganda has about 5,000 elephants down from 60,000 in the 1970s. The total African elephant population is estimated at 650,000, across 37 countries.
Large shipments of illegal ivory are always encountered, suggesting a well-developed network which is well resourced. Other small time dealers process the product and ship them in briefcases or pouches.
In 2012 nearly 1,500kg of ivory were intercepted in Kenya having entered the country through Uganda en-route to Malaysia.
In July 2012, Uganda Revenue Authority impounded 69 pieces of ivory as they were being cleared at Entebbe International Airport.
In December 2011, Malaysian authorities seized hundreds of African elephant tusks worth $1.3m being shipped to Cambodia.
The ivory was concealed in containers of handicrafts from Mombasa port.
The poachers prowling the protected areas in East Africa are armed, paid huge sums of cash and have fast means of transport.\
“It is not your conventional group of hunters armed with sticks, snares and spears looking for wild meat,” said Uganda Wildlife Authourity (UWA) board member Emily Otekat.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority last month passed out 80 investigative rangers at Muhoti Army School in Fort Portal. This is expected to curb poaching and bring the criminals to book.
“The onus is on you, the rangers, not only to prevent crime but to burst rackets,” UWA executive director Andrew Seguya told the graduates. “You will have to resist bribery and other attractive incentives to save our bio diversity for future generations.”
“We hope the judiciary gives the culprits deterrent punishments,” said Seguya.
“It does not help bursting a billion dollar crime gang and culprits are sentenced to only three years or fined sh200,000.”
Maj. Gen. Charles Angina, the deputy chief of defense forces, cautioned the graduates to have integrity.
“You need personal discipline to boost what you are worth,” said Angina.
“Do not be disgruntled or you will fail to perform your duties. Your attitude towards work makes you admirable.”
Armed and dangerous
“The poachers are armed with sophisticated weapons such as AK47 guns and are ready to shoot back at any law keepers in their way.”
“On top of that, tracking them is hard as they have faster means of delivering their goods from the scene of crime to the buyers,” said Otekat. “If a pair of elephant tusks goes for sh10m, they are paid a 50% deposit in advance as a sign of commitment and the balance is paid upon delivery.”
Otekat observed that this is enticing in an economy where joblessness is high and bio diversity is not held in very high regard.
“Poaching is not a petty crime,” says Wilson Omoding the officer in charge of Tourism Police Officer.
“The dealers in this trade are well connected to be able to beat not only the checks at Entebbe International Airport but to get to their destination in China, Malaysia, New York and the EU.”
Uganda’s foreign exchange earnings from tourism shot up from $662m (sh1.6b) to $805m (sh1.012trillion) in 2012. This pushed the contribution of tourism to GDP from 7.6 to 9.2%
Poachers also target lions, rhinos, gorillas, leopards and monkeys whose attraction in the national parks shot from 126,553 visitors in 2007 to 190,112 visitors by 2010.
Ivory trade is estimated to be worth between $7b and $10b a year.