OPINION: URA Should be Commended for its Vigilance in Stopping Wildlife Trafficking

Besi Ndereya

By Besi Ndereya

On March 04th 2014, local media reported “Yoweri Museveni has given Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) permission to shoot poachers who have cautiously refused to stop killing animals in National parks”. Uganda’s wildlife had been steadily increasing across the country’s 10 National Parks and in all wildlife sanctuaries.

At last year’s conference on illegal Wildlife trade in London, President Museveni also stated thus; “This conference comes at a time when the World and especially the African continent is faced with unprecedented illegal killing of elephants for ivory, rhinos for the rhino horns, pangolins for their scales and several other species for their various commercial values.”

On Friday 01st February 2018, Ugandans woke up to news that Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) had successfully intercepted three 20ft Containers carrying over 720 pieces of Ivory and hundreds of pangolin scales. According to Wikipedia, it is believed that pangolins after humans are the most trafficked mammals in the world which accounts for as much as 20% of all illegal wildlife trade.

The containers had been first scanned at Uganda’s border with South Sudan. The scan revealed that the carefully parked containers were carrying more than timber. According to Dickson Kateshumbwa of URA, a sting operation was launched. The containers were trailed to Kampala where they were impounded and two Vietnamese nationals apprehended. Vietnamese along with Chinese are the leading poachers of Elephants and pangolins in Africa.

With increasing Incomes in South Asia, the scale of poaching in Africa’s wild, especially in Southern and Eastern Africa, has increased. This haul is the second just this year alone. Every year, Uganda intercepts 100’s of ivory pieces as well as pangolin scales. Earlier this year too, Tanzania discovered a catchment of 1200 ivory pieces. They too were enroute to Vietnam. The political uncertainties in Democratic Republic of Congo – DRC as well as South Sudan has led to a revival of sophisticated poaching syndicates. These are financed by South East Asia mafia like criminal gangs.

The government of Cyril Ramaphosa in South Africa made a proposal concerning the sale of ivory and elephant hides stockpiled by their national parks through natural mortality and problem animal control. The money from these sales would be put back into their parks and would help fund activities such as elephant management programs, control of illegal hunting of elephants, and creating more and larger protected areas for the elephants to be re-established in.

This proposal, however, is being rejected by Conservationists – and I would like to believe as Africans we are conservationists – on the basis that legal trade in ivory would only escalate the problem. They argue that legal ivory trade would serve to further expand the markets already being served by poachers. A situation a kin to legitimsing prostitution in slum areas!

Uganda has a population of about 5000 elephants. A cow (female elephant) conceives once every 8.6 years with a gestation period of 22 months. URA’s operation netted 720 pieces of ivory, an equivalent of 365 elephants. In addition, elephants play an important role in the modification of ecosystems and creation of conditions suitable for the survival of some plants and animals. They maintain grasslands by reducing tree cover and create water ponds/wallows for other wildlife as they dig for water using their trunks and tusks.” – a sentiment echoed by president Museveni in London last year “Key wildlife species demanded in the illegal wildlife trade, particularly the African elephant and rhino, represent the symbol and heritage of Africa, play a significant ecological role in the ecosystems.”

In my view, in addition to acquiring even more Mobile Non-Intrusive Scanners, a 3 pronged solution MUST be put in place to deal with poaching. First, game warders must be reinforced by National Armies. They should be given authority to shoot dead any poacher caught laying illegal animal traps. In the case of Uganda, corruption in the Police MUST be decisively dealt with.

Second, sensitization campaigns targeting especially school children as well as the young adults must be ratcheted up. An awareness of one’s heritage and unique bio diversity systems often leads to a reduction in costs associated with taming poaching and environment degradation.

Third, and most importantly, Dhan Yan Chiew and Nguyen son Dong, the two Vietnamese arrested by URA – must face the full wrath of the law.

In a nutshell, I congratulate Uganda Revenue Authority for being Vigilant and going out of its comfort zone of collecting taxes to protecting our wildlife. In this, we see fruits of capacity building brought about by the NRM government which has empowered URA in very many aspects giving it individual and mechanized ability to detect and stop such sophisticated crime with ease and bring the perpetrators to book.

The writer is a Communications Assistant at Government Citizens Interaction Centre (GCIC), Ministry of ICT & National Guidance.

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