By Paul Tentena
KAMPALA, Uganda - Uganda is set to revise laws that deter the trade in wildlife products.
According to Grace Mbabazi Aulo, the acting Director of Tourism at the Ministry of Tourism, there are ongoing efforts to revise laws to provide for stiffer penalties for the offenders.
She said there are efforts to strengthen the capacity of the law enforcement personnel, enhance inter-agency collaboration, intensifying public awareness and elimination of demand for wildlife species.
“The Ministry is ready to provide all the necessary support in the fighting of the crime,” Aulo said during a week-long specialized training for law enforcement officers and intelligence unit staff of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in combating illicit trade in wild fauna and flora in Kampala.
The training was jointly organized by the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) and UWA. It was funded by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.
The Lusaka Agreement Task Force director based in Nairobi, Bonavenuture Ebayi, said the training was held at a time when the entire world and Africa in particular is striving to stop illicit activities in wild fauna and flora.
He pointed out the iconic endangered species such as elephants, rhinos and great apes.
“This vice not only destroys our ecological balance and rich heritage that we depend on, but also deprives states and communities of sustainable economic opportunities and revenues,” he said.
He said large quantities of wildlife contraband, especially elephant ivory, originating from Africa has been seized across the world and mainly in Asia with a big proportion having exited Africa through East Africa.
Over the last five years, from 2009-to June 2014,he said, LATF has recorded over 90 significant seizure incidents of wild fauna and flora specimens,82% of which comprised ivory weighing over 92,000 kg.
“Of the total ivory seized,42%,30% and 14% originated or was transited through Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda respectively,” Ebayi said.
In 2013, Ebayi added, a total of four main incidents were recorded that involved 832 pieces weighing 2,903kgs of ivory seized in Kampala while enroute to Mombasa,956 pieces weighing 2,898 kgs and 686 pieces weighing 1,956.15kgs as well as 1,478.4kgs seized at Mombasa port enroute to Malaysia.
In 2011 a total of 359 elephant tusks weighing 1,500kgs were intercepted in Colombo Sri-Lanka originating from Uganda and exported through Mombasa port.
“The recent incident involving an illegal consignment of 7 boxes containing 791 kgs of elephant ivory and 2,029 kgs of pangolin scales intercepted at Entebbe Airport on 21st January, 2015 is a live testimony of the ongoing concern,” Ebayi said.
In its efforts to address wildlife crime scourge, LATF in collaboration with the Lusaka Agreement member states and partners ,has coordinated a number of successful inter-regional enforcement operations such as those code named CORBRA that bring together African and Asian agencies to address wildlife crime across the two continents.
In early 2014, Operation CORBRA II led to the arrest of more than 400 criminals including kingpins in Africa and Asia, disruption of criminal syndicates as well as seizure of 36 rhino horns, over 3 metric tons of elephant ivory, over 10,000turtles, over 1,000 skins of protected species, over 10,000 European Eels and more than 200 metric tons of rosewood logs.
He said LATF has been issuing alerts, sharing criminal information and investigating seizure incidents of cross border and /or international nature with Uganda.
This he said resulted into prevention of illegal killing of rhinos, special measures by government regarding illegal exploitation and export of sandalwood specimens, arrest and prosecution of wildlife law offenders mainly associated with ivory, rhino horns, reptiles and pangolin scales smuggling.
The training to UWA staff gave specially tailored to impart the trainees with knowledge and skills in intelligence for effective intelligence led enforcement operations, investigation technique to support prosecution of wildlife cases.
The training revitalized officers with CITES enforcement and compliance skills as well as revisit key elements of ethics vital to maintaining standards during law enforcement operations and investigations.
UWA Executive Director Dr. Andrew Seguya said the illicit wildlife trade was lucrative only comparable to drugs and is so secretive that it requires inter agency collaboration to fight. He said over the last five years, the region has witnessed an escalation in this trade.