A recent report published in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal showed that around 100,000 elephants were killed in the last four years internationally.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that the elephant population over the African continent had dropped from 550,000 in 2006 to 470,000 in 2013. It had been caused by mainly poaching and environmental degradation.
Luckily, statistics from Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) shows that elephant population for Queen Elizabeth Protected Area has continuously increased from 400 in 1988 to 2,959 in 2010, while in the same period in Murchison Falls Protected Area, the large mammals have too increased from 201 in 1995, to 904 in the same period.
In the same period, the number Buffaloes has increased from 2,477 to 9,192, that of giraffes from 153 to 930 and Hartebeests from 2,431 to 3,589 because of several factors, incorporating stability in the nation, strict conservation measures and general awareness among the population.
These wildlife crimes not only threaten the presence of different species and the tourism industry, additionally national security as gangs and other terrorist organizations use this as an avenue to get funding to facilitate their activities.
And indeed expected illicit wildlife products worth more than Shs5 billion was seized a year ago, according to the Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities minister, Ms Maria Mutagamba.
Speaking at the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in Botswana’s northeastern town of Kasane, Ms Mutagamba said illicit killing of elephants and its trade has derailed the continent’s tourism industry, which of later, is ending up being a backbone of foreign exchange earnings for most African countries.
Uganda’s tourism industry contributed 7.9% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product in 2013 translating into Sh5.5 trillion and created over 500,000 employments. In spite of this contribution, the industry got just near to Sh800 million as its investment in the same Financial Year.
“In only one year, we have seized more than two tons of Ivory [estimated to be worth about Shs2.2 billion], 30 Rhino horns and around two tons of Pangolin scales [worth over Shs2.9 billion] at Entebbe International Airport. We are resolved to make it increasingly hard for wildlife traffickers to use Uganda as a transit nation,” Ms Mutagamba said.
Uganda is not just a transit area for the valuable wildlife products however it has excessively encountered the same crimes.
Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) executive director Andrew Seguya, who was part of Minister Mutagamba’s contingent, said Uganda has been successful in capturing consignments of wildlife contraband because of surveillance.
“We have created intelligence service of over 80 officers and a plenty of informers” across border points and around game reserves and national parks
However, there is more that needs to be done to stamp out the vice, he said. As indicated by Ms Mutagamba, Uganda has encountered several difficulties in the management of the national ivory stockpile to the extent that around 1.2 tons of ivory was lost in 2014.
A year ago, a review by UWA found that 1,300 kilograms of ivory worth $1.1m (about Shs3b) was missing, hence attracting the attention of President Museveni, who asked the Inspector General of Government to investigate the matter. The IGG’s report is yet to be released.
Early this month, China, the world’s biggest ivory importer, forced a one-year ban on ivory carving imports. Ivory is a highly prized item in markets, for example, Malaysia and China as it is an indication of prestige and riches. From ivory, magnificent sculptures are made. With the increase in incomes by the Chinese, the demand for ivory has increased in the previous years, leading to the killing of many African elephants.
Ms. Mutagambwa said Uganda will keep on using the accredited forensic laboratories in USA and South Africa to focus in ascertaining the origin of seized ivory and rhino horns. She however said “Uganda welcomes the foundation of the new forensic laboratory in Nairobi and we will certainly make use of it,”
At the same meeting, Minister Mutagambwa accepted to join the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI), however asked subsidizing that will empower the impllementation of the African Elephant Action Plan. Botswana President, Lt Gen Khama Ian Khama, said wildlife poaching and trafficking had indeed reached unmatched levels all through the world, particularly with endangered species.