By Vision Reporter
The anti-poaching operations deployed recently by the Uganda Wildlife Authority have registered increased arrests and recovery of guns from suspected poachers. Moses Olinga, UWA’s law enforcement officer, said 80 intelligence officials had been deployed across the country.
He explained that the most recent incident, where two pieces of ivory were recovered from suspected poachers, took place on January 5, near Purongo in Murchison Falls National Park.
He also disclosed that UWA recovered a gun with 65 bullets and 15 empty magazines on December 15 at the same park. “We have good intelligence on the ground that has recovered many guns in Murchison Falls National Park,” he said. Also, UWA has increased its manpower, following the with recruitment of 650 rangers.
How safe is ivory piled at UWA?
By Gera ld Tenywa
Two pieces of ivory were stolen from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) about two years ago. Consequently, the Police at the Central Police Station in Kampala retained the ivory as exhibits, pending conclusion of the case. However, the exhibits somehow ended up in the larger consignment of 440 pieces of ivory that was impounded at Entebbe Airport on December 20 last year.
The recovery of ivory raises questions on the safety of the exhibits in the hands of the Police and those under the custodianship of UWA. “Stealing of ivory from UWA took place when we had a high staff turnover, which created a lot of confusion,” a source told Saturday Vision, adding that the password to the entrance of the reserves is contributed by three people, with each of them keeping in memory a few letters. “Somehow the number of people with the password reduced from three to only one,” the source said.
The source also pointed out that the ivory had been marked, so they discovered that 10 pieces had gone missing before sanity returned to the largest wildlife sanctuary. UWA lost about half of its leadership in a shakeup which started in 2010 and lasted about two years, with repeated inquiries over allegations of mismanagement. Concerns are also increasing over ivory being kept by different institutions, such as the Police, Uganda Revenue Authority and court, which is in violation of the Uganda Wildlife Act.
“We want the Inspector General Police (IGP) to intervene so that ivory being kept by various police stations is handed over to UWA for custody as required by the law,” the source revealed, adding that UWA had, on January 7, sent the letter to the IGP.
The stockpiles of ivory at UWA, estimated at three tonnes, have been growing over the years, according to wildlife officials. But the amount of ivory in the hands of the Police, URA and Court is more than what is in UWA’s reserves. Most of the tusks are recovered from poachers and a few others from elephants which have died from natural causes. UWA’s fears are also based on the disappearance of 250kg which were being kept by Makindye Court as exhibits last year.
UWA officials and Police inspect a consignment of 440 pieces of ivory intercepted at Entebbe Airport. Picture by Gerald Tenywa
Ivory gangs turn Uganda into sanctuary as trade booms
By Gerald Tenywa
The hunter has become the hunted. It all started about two years ago, when Prosper Wasike, a clerk to the armoury at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), was arrested with two pieces of elephant ivory stolen from UWA’s stockpile in Kampala.
The two pieces, which had been kept as exhibits at the Central Police Station in Kampala, found their way into a huge consignment of 440 pieces of ivory that were intercepted at Entebbe Airport on December 20. The ivory was destined to Malaysia via Lagos, Nigeria.
Recovered ivory is labelled before it is kept at UWA’s stockpile in Kampala. This, according to UWA, is how they identified the stolen ivory out of the 440 other pieces.
While ivory is widely seen as a monument for the dirty work of poachers, some officials, who are well respected as stewards of wild animals and the Police who are supposed to protect Ugandans and their property, are aiding the slaughter of the endangered species, elephants.
At Entebbe, the Aviation Police arrested two clearing agents in connection with the 440 pieces of ivory, but they were released on Police bond. As the law made an attempt to run after the small fish, owners of the ivory were walking scot-free.
Why is it that the Police have not arrested the owners of the ivory, yet the export documents, accompanying the consignment had names of the company or individuals sending the contraband? “Investigations are going on to establish the people behind the crime,” said Lodovico Awita, the commandant of the Aviation Police at Entebbe. He added, “the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has taken over the case.” He was speaking to Saturday Vision this week, in interview, after a search of the containers also revealed that there were 15 rhino horns stashed together with the ivory.
This, according to wildlife officials shows that the owners of the ivory are part of the global criminal gangs. UWA says the size of the elephant tusks is bigger than those of Ugandan elephants and that Uganda has not lost many elephants in recent years. In addition, the only rhinos living in Uganda are kept in sanctuaries.
A similar incident in which 832 pieces (removed from 416 elephants) were recovered from a warehouse at Bweyogerere in October last year raised eye brows.
The ivory, worth sh6.4b, was destined for China, before it was intercepted. In less than two months, ivory belonging to 600 elephants was recovered in and around Kampala city. This is an indication that criminal gangs have turned Uganda into their sanctuary.
- Uganda’s elephant population up, global numbers decline
According to Charles Tumwesigye, the conservation area manager at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), before 2008, Uganda had been losing an average of five elephants annually. The number rose to 18 in 2008 and increased to 25 in 2012. However it dropped to 11 last year.
The trade in ivory raises concern since Ugandan elephants are not safe. After depleting elephant numbers elsewhere, poachers will turn their guns to Ugandan elephants. Uganda has to cooperate with other countries to curb elephant poaching since the country is a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna (CITES).
The number of elephants has been increasing, from about 2,000 in 1982 to about 5,000. They currently reside in Uganda’s national parks, such as Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls, Semliki, Kibale and Kidepo, according to Tumwesigye. Currently, the global number of elephants, estimated at 480,000, has reduced by 76% over the last three decades, according to the US-based Africa Wildlife Foundation
- Police losing interest in wildlife cases
As the number of cases increase, sources say the Police are losing interest in following up on wildlife crime. “In some cases when the Police are asking hard questions, people will take you aside and say we have to go slow on this,” said a source, who preferred to remain anonymous.
Also, the sources cited some politicians and military officials, who act as godfathers to the dealers in wildlife crime for personal benefit. The ‘untouchables’ use their clout to block the law from taking its course.
- Uganda’s weak laws attract criminals
How the ivory ends up in Uganda, remains as mysterious as the owners, according to sources, but it is believed that most criminal gangs are shifting their operational base to Kampala.
Sources also blame the law against poaching. They say the law is weak and that corruption is rampant among wildlife officials who work in favour of the gangs.
In neighbouring Kenya, the law has been revised, with stiff punitive penalties that have made ivory trade more expensive. This, according to sources, has driven most ivory dealers to Uganda, where penalties sanctioned by the Wildlife Act, are still meek.
Currently, the Uganda Wildlife Act is being reviewed. “We are proposing a fine of not less than sh15m if someone does not have a permit and not less than five years imprisonment,” Tumwesigye said.
Elephants feeding at a national park
Uganda listed among gang of eight due to illegal trade in ivory
At a recent meeting in Botswana, Uganda made a fresh commitment to conserve African elephants. The meeting was attended by representatives of African countries where ivory either originates or traffickers have routes for illegal trade. Other representatives were from countries which are known ivory destinations such as China and Malaysia.
The UK and US also sent representatives. “We have committed ourselves to protect elephants and wildlife,” Maria Mutagamba, the Minister of Tourism, said. She added that Uganda plans to intensify anti-poaching operations and is in the process of renewing the wildlife law to ensure stiffer punitive action. Mutagamba explained: “In Nigeria, they execute people who kill wild animals.
We have to mobilise UWA, the Police, local authorities and the East African Community to take action against those exploiting the endangered species.” At a previous Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna (CITES), Uganda was listed among what they called the ‘gang of eight’, in reference to countries which are doing little to curb the illegal trade in ivory. Other countries are Kenya and Tanzania. Also, destination countries such as China and Malaysia were listed.
CITES ordered the countries to provide a programme of action to minimise the trade in ivory in the next 12 months or face sanctions. After the CITES meeting, Uganda put in place a number of measures, including training the wildlife intelligence unit.
But ivory impounded elsewhere is being traced back to Uganda, while ivory trafficking cases are not being handled with the aggressiveness they deserve. So, it is a mixed bag of success and failure, in light of what Uganda promised to deliver under CITES. The verdict after assessing how Uganda has performed is expected later this year. Will CITES remove Uganda from the “gang of eight” or blacklist Uganda
Data on ivory confiscated by UWA since 2012
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