By Wolfgang H. Thome
KAMPALA, Uganda - (eTN) Uganda, unlike most of her East African neighbours, has a success story to tell when it comes to protecting the elephant which are found in several of the 10 national parks across the country.
According to recent comments made by Charles Tumwesigye, a senior official at the Uganda Wildlife Authority, reported poaching cases in 2013 dropped to just 11, down from 25 in 2012, largely as a result of substantially improved intelligence gathering and surveillance methods introduced to the UWA ranger force.
Inspite of this success, only Rwanda reported less elephant poached last year with single digit numbers – the land of a thousand hills has elephants in only one of the country’s three national parks, Akagera – as Uganda presently pondering a significant strengthening of the existing Wildlife Act, with amendments pending before cabinet for consideration before parliament can debate and pass it.
‘Our parliament, I hope, will soon have a chance to redeem itself when they get the amended wildlife bill for discussion. The passing of such laws like the anti mini skirt bill and the homosexuality bill have brought shame to our country and made us a laughing stock on the social media. These people need to get serious in what they do. There are more important issues beleaguering our country which need legislation and a tough new wildlife bill is among them. Kenya has passed it and now poachers face life in prison and very strong financial fines. Even if our poaching numbers are low, and I applaud law enforcement and UWA for that success, Uganda’s name keeps coming up as a transit country for blood ivory from Congo and South Sudan. When they nab that ivory in Mombasa, all they say is it came from Uganda. Our poaching numbers have gone down last year by more than half but just being named is bad for us. We must improve border security to prevent ivory from neighbouring countries to enter Uganda and then transit to the port in Mombasa. Another positive thing is that we are now catching people in Entebbe when they want to fly out and try to smuggle ivory in their baggage. Me and my colleagues hope that our government will also crush or burn some of that ivory to make a public point that poaching in Uganda, smuggling of ivory in Uganda, has zero tolerance’ wrote a regular contributor after discussing the positive trend UWA’s Tumwesigye had announced last weekend.
In contrast, the country with the worst record in elephant poaching is Tanzania, with recent statistics published which cast grave doubts on the survival of the last great herds in the Selous and Ruaha parks. In the Selous the numbers of elephants, after the last Frankfurt Zoological Society sponsored census in October last year, are given as mere 13,000 elephant, down from an estimated 70,000 in 2005 while in the Ruaha region elephant numbers reduced from over 31,000 to just around 2,.000 in the span of a few years.
Parliamentary reports last year, undisputed by government – even though the opposition puts the real number of elephant poached in Tanzania as much higher – confirmed the loss of about 10,000 elephants through poaching, or around 30 a day. The sheer scale of the poaching in Tanzania puts to shame the country and in particular hangs over the presidency of Jakaya Kikwete like a dark cloud, as he is now in the history books as the president with the arguably worst record in losing elephant and doing the least to stop it. This led to wide ranging allegations of top government officials benefitting from the blood ivory trade and only of late have more robust statements been made by Kikwete, though concrete action and success are still a long way off.
Kenya has meanwhile passed the presently toughest anti-poaching laws with President Kenyatta signing the bill into law on Christmas Eve last year, providing for life terms in prison and crippling financial fines for poachers, traders and their financiers when convicted in court. Kenya’s loss of elephant is numbered in the hundreds but has also seen the highest number of rhinos poached last year, which led to an unofficial shoot to kill understanding when poachers open fire on rangers and security personnel.