Uganda: Illegal Wildlife Trade a Thorn in Tourism


Edgar R. Batte, The Monitor

Date Published

Uganda cannot, in the slightest way, influence international illegal wildlife traders.

In his submission Andrew Sseguya, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) executive director, pointed to a report which quotes someone having gone to a Chinese market and interfaced with people trading with illegal ivory traders.

He asked them if they knew where ivory came from. Eighty per cent of the Chinese buyers did not know that the ivory came from elephants that were killed in Africa.

“They did not know and when they were shown photographs of elephants that had been killed for ivory, they abandoned some of the ivory items, saying they could not be part of such a racket,” Sseguya said during a discussion on illegal wildlife trade, on the sidelines of the Jewels of the Wild Art exhibition at Sheraton Kampala Hotel recently.

He pointed to an incident when the authorities arrested someone with a consignment of four tonnes of ivory which was being smuggled through Entebbe International Airport.

It was traced and it was slated to land in Angola.

Alarming numbers

Prof Akankwasah Barirega, the acting commissioner wildlife conservation at the Ministry of Tourism, revealed that globally, environmental related crimes are estimated by the United Nations to cost $213 billion per year with $23 billion (10.8 per cent) attributed to wildlife trafficking alone.

“The price of ivory for instance, has increased from $5 per kg in 1989 to a wholesale price of $2,100 per kg in China in 2014. Between 2009 and 2014, about 170tonnes of ivory was trafficked accounting for death of about 229,729 elephants,” Prof Barirenga said.

The scale and scope of the problem continues to grow at an alarming rate, certainly reversing decades of conservation gains.

The commissioner adds that evidence from scientific studies in East Africa indicate that 5,645 elephants were poached in 2010; 10,631 elephants in 2011 and 8,515 elephants in 2012.

According to a cities, Interpol, International Union for Conservation of Nature and traffic report, between 2009 and 2011, Kenya and Tanzania accounted for 16 out of 34 large scale ivory seizures weighing 500kgs or more.

Between 2009 and 2013, out of 76 large seizures of ivory, two-thirds occurred in Asia but mostly originating from East Africa, indicating the porous nature of East Africa’s ports.

“Annual Illegal wildlife trade seizures in Uganda has moved from 6 in 2000, 21 in 2005, 23 in 2011, 22 in 2014 and to 19 in 2015. Annual poaching incidences across Uganda have increased from 12 in 2000 to 65 in 2004, 172 in 2007, 214 in 2010, 217 in 2014 and 291 in 2015,” Prof Barirega further explains.

He adds that annual wildlife crime prosecutions have increased from two in 2000 to 123 in 2005; 265 in 2010 and 431 in 2015.

Endangered animals

According to the Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF) response to illegal wildlife trafficking, Africa’s elephants and rhinos, caught in the crosshairs of the illegal wildlife trade, are in a battle for their survival.

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More than 100 elephants are killed each day by poachers.

“The poaching of rhinos rose from 13 in 2007 to a staggering 668 in 2012, in South Africa alone, the African nation with the highest population of rhinos. Only about 450,000 elephants and a mere 25,000 rhinos remain on the African continent. If poaching continues at these rates, we may see the extinction of two of Africa’s most charismatic species from some of their core habitats in the next 20 years,” AWF’s communication officer, Abiaz Rwamwiri, explains.

Sseguya argues that it is not ivory alone that illegal wildlife traders are interested in.

He says there is brisk trade in snakes, birds and turtles being sold to people who deal in ornamental items.

Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) recently impounded 152 tortoises from Mbale District.

According to Havocscope, an online directory of black market information, a tortoise in Malaysia alone can be valued upwards of $10,000 (about Shs33.2 million).

In his article, Rodrigo Farias Silva Regueira of Federal University of Pernambuco in Brazil, illegal wildlife trade is a widespread activity with direct impact on biodiversity and street markets are frequently pointed out as hotspots in the wildlife trade route.

However, due to its illegal character, it is difficult to accurately estimate how many individuals and how much money is handled by traders.

“We observed a high and diversified species offer, biased towards adult male songbirds, with birds of 15 families and 55 species on sale. Birds are kept in poor conditions and some individuals are sold for as little as $1,” he explains.

However, he projects that up to 50,000 wild birds may be sold annually in the markets surveyed, including possibly 16,800 individuals of Sporophila nigricollis (the yellow-bellied seedeater), the most frequently observed species.

He adds: “The activity is profitable and may deal with significant amounts of money (up to nearly $ 630,000.00 a year). The numbers involved indicate that street markets are significant wildlife sinks, with a large and frequently ignored impact that must be taken into account in the control and conservation of the biodiversity, not just in Brazil but elsewhere.”

AWF has provided wildlife authorities in Cameroon, Uganda, Zambia, and Kenya with much-needed technology such as surveillance cameras, communications equipment, and vehicles.

Rwamwiri says AWF has worked to strengthen law enforcement efforts around poaching and trafficking.

Seeking remedies

According to Akankwasah Barirega, Uganda has enhanced integrity of the protected areas, arising from political stability and associated security which has enabled an increase in wildlife population.

Elephant population has increased from only 2000 in 1983 to now 5,346 in 2014 while Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi alone have increased from only 298 in 1993 to 400 in 2011.

Buffalos have increased from 25,000 in 1982 to 36,953 in 2014. Uganda Kobs have increased from 40,000 in 1982 to 77,759 in 2014.