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Some of the ivory seized by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) officials at Entebbe International last week is believed to have been part of the stock stolen from their stores in Kampala.
“A preliminary assessment indicates some of the ivory impounded is what was recently stolen from UWA stores,” said Charles Tumwesigye, UWA’s deputy director of conservation.
This could provide clues that would help to smash the ivory syndicate responsible for stealing 1,300 kilogrammes of ivory worth $1.1m (about sh3b) from UWA’s strong room.
The consignment was recovered from seven huge wooden boxes containing 791kg of ivory and 2,029kg of pangolin scales.
Three people (names withheld) arrested during the swoop are currently assisting with the investigations into trafficking of the trophies, according to Lodovick Awita, the commandant of the Aviation Police. He declined to name them to avoid undermining the investigations.
Sources say a cargo handler and a clearing agent were among those arrested and being held by the Aviation Police at Entebbe.
The driver of the truck that delivered the stock to the airport led the Police and wildlife officials to the house in Bunamwaya in Kampala where the trophies were loaded.
The team recovered an ivory moulding machine and pangolin scales referred to as implicating evidence. The “owner” was also arrested.
The trophies had been cleared as telecommunication equipment on Wednesday night but a team of wildlife officials blocked the stock from advancing to their destination—Netherlands. The team of wildlife officials as well as Aviation Police on Friday were engaged in a day– long process of opening the huge wooden boxes in which the ivory and pangolin scales were concealed.
“It is UWA that has impounded this Ivory after an intelligence tip–off. Investigations already started and we shall get to the bottom of it,” Tumwesigye said, adding that they would leave no stone unturned in the fight against wildlife crime.
Two months ago, The New Vision broke the story in which an audit by UWA revealed that 1,300 kgs of ivory worth $1.1m (about sh3b) had gone missing from UWA’s strong room.
This caused public debate and anger among conservationists and the private sector dealing in wildlife–based tourism.
President Yoweri Museveni ordered the Inspector General of Government to investigate the disappearance of the ivory from UWA’s stores and the fraudulent export pangolin scales.
Last week, New Vision run an expose titled, ‘UWA clears export of sh11b pangolin scales’ highlighting irregularities in the clearing of export of the pangolin scales.
Maria Mutagamba, the Minister of Tourism, also ordered for an immediate ban on pangolin scales, citing abuse of the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna.
She also said Uganda does not have that species of pangolin whether dead or alive.
A small obscure mammal about the size of a cat has been brought into limelight. The pangolins also known as olugave in Luganda are referred to as shy animals in kiganda’s folklore.
Given its scaly appearance, some people think the pangolin is a reptile but it is not, according to Gilbert Basuta, a lecturer in Zoology of Makerere University.
This tiny mammal, according to Basuta, has plate –like overlapping scales, which it uses for protection against predators.
Pangolins coil into round tight balls hiding their small heads when under threat. But their scales have also attracted poachers and traffickers who feed the escalating demand in Asia, particularly China.
Pangolin meat and scales are used to make medicine while the scales are raw materials for bangles, necklaces and chop sticks for affluent Chinese. The scales contain keratin, similar to that protein in human nails and only useful for protection. However, people in the Oriental countries are fascinated about it, according to Basuta.
As a result, pangolin scales are among the world’s most heavily trafficked in recent years.
The pangolins are nocturnal, which partly explains why they are not easily seen but they are also becoming endangered because of hunting for their meat and scales.
Call for conservation
Buganda’s deputy premier, Hajj Muhammad Ssekimpi, has demanded for conservation of the pangolin, saying that it is a totem for one of the 52 clans of Buganda.
This is part of the indigenous knowledge among the Baganda that has contributed the conservation of the environment.
“We have a duty to protect the animals,” Ssekimpi says.
He condemns the sale and export of wild animals, pointing out that they are rarely seen and should not be traded in.
“I do not think the pangolins are some of the animal species that traders should be selling legally or illegally,” he adds.
Facts on Pangolins
Between two and three pangolins have to be killed to harvest one kilogramme of pangolin scales.
Pangolins reach sexual maturity at two years.
Gestation periods range from 65-139 days, depending on the species.
Their scales are soft and pale, and begin to harden by the second day.
Pangolins can be reared on farms but the incentive for this is undermined by the illegal traders who hunt pangolins in the wild and export them.