Kasese is home to Queen Elizabeth, Mount Rwenzori and Kibaale national parks – making it one of the key tourist destinations. But poaching threatens the animals. Our undercover reporter guised himself as a buyer of game meat to try and infiltrate the world of poachers
"Park rangers are very cooperative; they can help you get any type of animal. They will escort you and also kill the animal for you." Julius Bwambale, informant
My first destination is Kikorongo, a small town on the Kasese-Mbarara highway, 15km from Kasese town, inside Queen Elizabeth National Park.
I am introduced to Julius Bwambale. After explaining to him that I want to start dealing in game meat, he immediately offers to introduce me to a park ranger who will help me get any animal I need as soon as I pay a certain fee.
“Here we have park rangers who are very cooperative and they can help you get any type of animal that you need, hippopotamuses are very common.
Poachers recently arrested with ivory from elephants in Kibaale National Park
They (the game rangers) will escort you and also kill the animal for you. The only thing they need from you is the means of transporting the animal from the park to where you are taking it,” says Bwambale.
The next day, Bwambale introduces me to a park ranger who identifies himself as Mugisha. He demands to know where I am taking the wild meat. I tell him I have ready market in Fort Portal.
“We have helped very many people to get game meat and ivory from the elephants; that is very easy. Organise transport and pay me sh300,000 and tomorrow evening I will take you to a spot where the animals gather and we shall kill one for you,” says Mugisha.
I ask him whether his superiors will not ask him to account for the bullets he will use to shoot the animal.
Mugisha tells me they have private security guards who sell them bullets at sh20,000 each, or depending on the number of bullets.
“By the way, you will also pay for the number of bullets I am going to use to shoot the animal because I file returns at the end of the day,” says Mugisha.
At my next destination in Bigando Kitswamba sub-county, in Kibaale National Park, I am introduced to one Ismael Muhindo. I break the ice by telling him I have ready market for ivory in South Sudan.
He promises to find me a park ranger who I can work with to kill the elephants.
“Getting an elephant is not easy so we have to work with a park ranger who can spot it for us and we find means of killing it,” says Muhindo.
“You must keep me out of this deal because I can easily lose my job if it is discovered that I was involved. Only get me a jack fruit, smear it with poison and I take it near the elephant. I will keep monitoring its movement and after it has died, I will call you and you get your ivory,” says the park ranger.
In Karusandara, a sub-county neighbouring Queen Elizabeth National Park, some poachers volunteer to give information about the animals to the poachers in exchange for money.
“Most rangers work with the poachers because they earn little money,” says Ronald Byaruhanga, a resident of Kabuga in Karusandara sub-county.
During my stay I come to realise that many poachers operate just a few metres away from the surveillance headquarters of Uganda Wildlife Authority.
In a crackdown, some of the poachers have been arrested. When they were interrogated, they confessed to dealing with game rangers.
According Kiiza Kagoro, the senior park warden Kibaale National Park, most park rangers, after being involved in such deals, desert the area for fear of being arrested and losing their jobs.
UWA steps up security
By Titus Kakembo
In the midst of all this, Uganda Wildlife Authourity (UWA) is not seating on their laurels. The executive director, Andrew Seguya, says the number of rangers has been beefed up, the technology improved and the communities around with the parks sensitised about the dangers of poaching.
There is an ongoing campaign to educate communities living near game parks.
“The message is that animals are better alive than on your plate,” Seguya says. “This is evidenced by the 20% of the earning from tourism levies that UWA ploughs back to them to make their lives better.”
“There are also 750 newly trained rangers,” says Seguya. “This, in addition to 80 others trained by UPDF to burst and prevent crime. On the ground, there is 24-hour surveillance and collaboration with other security organs like Interpol and the Internal Security Organisation.”
The officer in charge of the tourism Police, Wilson Omoding, says the racket of poachers is armed and fast when transacting business.
“They kill and deliver their product so fast from the point the crime was committed.”
However, Seguya says UWA has ordered for machines that can differentiate types of meat.
“Currently when one is arrested with meat, they go free because we cannot prove it is wild game meat,” explains Seguya.
He adds that the worst hit species of animals are antelopes and buffalos.
Asked about the market where wild game is sold, Seguya says UWA is aware it is sold in towns along highways. Some of it reaches Kampala and is roasted in pubs.
“The consumers do not know they are eating baboons and other wild game which can be a health hazard,” says Seguya.
“The worst hit area is Murchison Falls National Park because of its swelling refugee populations from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.”