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West Nile now a haven for wildlife trafficking

Clement Aluma

April 20, 2023

What you need to know:

  • The trade is done in concealment and its detection is one of the biggest challenges authorities manning the border security face.

Officials from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) have identified the West Nile Sub-region as a new front for traffickers of wildlife products.

This is a departure from the routes hitherto used by the traffickers in western Uganda through Ishasha, Mpondwe and Bunagana due to increased vigilance by the customs officials.

Wildlife crime is a lucrative business that is transnational. Uganda has been labelled as a country where the wildlife products are illegally procured as well as trafficked before they are taken to the Middle East.

The programme manager for IFAW, Mr Moses Olinga, told the Monitor in Arua on Tuesday that the products mainly come from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan and West Africa.

“There has been a shift to the northern route, specifically West Nile, where we have had incidents of ivory passing through the Vurra border, Oraba, and Goli customs. So, a number of arrests have been made by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in Arua, Nebbi and Koboko and people who are arrested give us this information,” Mr Olinga said.

He said traffickers tell them that they feel they can only get a market for their wildlife products in Uganda. He added that the high demand in the black international market and poverty were fuelling the trafficking of wildlife products.

IFAW now wants to train Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), Internal Security Organisation, External Security Organisation, migration and other related security agencies manning border security on how to detect the cross-border movement of such wildlife products.

The trade is done in concealment and its detection is one of the biggest challenges authorities manning the border security face. Some of them are hidden among the goods and mostly, they travel late in the night, making it hard to detect the illegal wildlife products.

Ms Margaret Driciru, an official from UWA in Murchison Falls National Game Park, said the most trafficked wildlife products include elephant tusks, rhino horns, pangolin scales, hippopotamus teeth and live grey parrots, among others.

“The preferred destination for the products is China, Vietnam, Thailand and other countries in the Far East. We need to improve surveillance at the border areas because many of them come from DR Congo,” she said.

The URA regional supervisor of customs for West Nile, Mr Deogratious Kalebi, said the numerous porous borders and concealment in high level manner pose a great challenge.

“We have surveillance teams and we have official check points where we keep checking what is coming in and what is going out of the country. We have also deployed scanners but one of the challenges we have had is concealment of not only dutiable goods but also wildlife products,” Mr Kalebi said.

The Arua Resident District Commissioner, Mr Geoffrey Okiswa, said: “Our people want to make money at any cost in disregard of our future generation. We don’t want our elephants to go extinct like the dinosaurs. There is a need to protect them from poachers.”

The Uganda Wildlife Act, 2019, stipulates general offences in wildlife conservation areas as anyone who “(a) hunts, takes, kills, injures or disturbs any wildlife, wild animal.”

The penalties under Section 70 include a fine not exceeding 350 currency points or a jail term not exceeding 10 years or both for first time offenders.

Also, in the case of a second or subsequent offence, there is a fine not exceeding 500 currency points or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 20 years or both.

Data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime indicate that illegal wildlife trafficking contributes to over $19 billion loss annually.

In Uganda, it is estimated that about $500 million is lost because of the products that pass through Uganda or are in the country.

Past cases

In September 2016, police arrested three men in Zombo District after they were found with Ivory worth Shs930,000 at the Uganda-Congo border.

In May 2017, UWA recovered pangolin scales and elephant tusks of about Shs80 million in Gulu District and parts of West Nile Sub-region.

The Police Flying Squad Unit also arrested three people with 100 kilogrammes of Ivory from Arua and Maracha districts.

Three months ago in Gulu District, UWA recovered pangolin scales worth Shs5 million. Also in Abim District, pangolin scales of about Shs6 million were recovered


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