By Gerald Tenywa
Jasper Opio, a resident of Luzira in Kampala has been arrested over illegal possession of 15kgs of hippo teeth, according to top officials of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
Hippo teeth are valued at $400 for a kilogram meaning that 15 kilograms could fetch up to $6,000 amounting to sh15m.
According to Charles Tumwesigye, the chief conservation area manager at the UWA, undercover operatives posing as buyers of hippo teeth exposed Opio. The operatives swung into action following a tip off from the intelligence network set up UWA.
“The recovery of hippo teeth shows criminal activities are still a real threat to wildlife,” said Tumwesigye, adding that animals are being killed for wildlife trophies.
Opio claims that the hippo teeth belongs to his Congolese friend who kept them at his house and asked him to look for market, but wildlife officials strongly believe he is part of the supply chain of wildlife trophies, according to Tumwesigye.
Tumwesigye said the hippo population in the protected areas in increasing though they (protected areas) lose up to 60 hippos due to natural causes and poaching every year. He said areas outside protected areas such as Lake Victoria, Kyoga still have many hippos which are facing a bigger threat from poachers. “The poachers eat the meat and trophy hunters extract the teeth,” said Tumwesigye.
He did not rule out, DR Congo as the origin of the hippo teeth pointing out that the lawlessness in the eastern parts of DR Congo had led to plunder of Congo’s resources including wildlife.
“The instability in DR Congo is helping people with criminal intentions and treasure hunters to pick trophies,” Tumwesigye told New Vision, adding that most of the trophies are kept in Uganda, which is also used as a trafficking route to Asian countries among other destinations. “We are still investigating this case and then take him to Court.”