Wednesday December 6 2017

Illegal ivory trade in West Nile pushes elephants to extinction

Officials of the Uganda Wildlife Authority displa

Officials of the Uganda Wildlife Authority display impounded ivory in Kampala on February 19. Illegal trade in ivory in West Nile and the neighbouring DR Congo is booming, thanks to the many porous border crossings. FILE PHOTO 

By FELIX WAROM OKELLO

Arua- Illegal ivory trade across the West Nile sub-region and the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is threatening efforts to conserve the dwindling elephant population in the country.

West Nile districts such as Arua, Koboko, Maracha, Nebbi, Yumbe and Zombo have more than 600 unmanned routes to the neighbouring DRC, making it easy for ivory trade to thrive. In eastern DRC, ivory has ready market in Aru and Mahagi towns.

Ivory trade is lucrative and this has seen many residents join the illegal practice across the border despite the risks. A kilogramme of ivory costs $2,500 (about Shs8 million) on the black market. Last Thursday, police arrested three people with 100kgs of ivory from Arua and Maracha districts. Two others were arrested at Simbili border in Malacha with 33kgs.

“They first hid the ivory on the DRC side but went to collect it after being tricked by police officers who posed as buyers. People should desist from the illegal trade,” said West Nile Region police spokesperson Josephine Ms Angucia.

Ms Angucia said a 52-year-old boda boda rider was also recently arrested with 67kgs of ivory that he had kept in his house, awaiting transit to DR Congo.

Despite efforts on the Ugandan side of the border to arrest and prosecute dealers, this is not the case in DRC where laxity in law enforcement and inadequate technology has scaled up elephant poaching and sale of the ivory.

According to statistics from World Wide Fund (WWF), more than 30,000 elephants are killed in the rain forests of DRC for ivory annually. To end this tragedy, WWF is focusing efforts on zero poaching, reducing demand for ivory and breaking trafficking links.

Uganda also remains a key transit country for illegal ivory trade, which is estimated to be worth $600 million annually.

Since the year began, Natural Resource Conservation Network (NRCN) in conjunction with the police have been able to impound 1.9 tons of ivory in various parts of the country.

The ivory was impounded in areas close to game parks in north eastern and northern Uganda, West Nile and western Uganda.

Mr Joshua Poro, the NRCN public relations officer, says: “Of recent, elephant tusks and pangolin scales are the most trafficked in Uganda. Our people should always seek to protect these animals instead of killing them to get rich.”

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has recruited and trained 634 rangers in the last three years and set up an 80-man intelligence force to combat poaching across the country. However, these are not enough to curb the illegal trade.

There are about 5,000 elephants in the country, according to 2015 studies by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Great Elephant Census and UWA.
Poaching and the illegal ivory trade contravene the Uganda Wildlife Act 1996 Section 24 (h), which prohibits and controls commercial enterprises within a wildlife conservation area.

Ivory is exported to East Asia (mainly China and Malaysia).

Illegal wildlife trade is a serious criminal industry worth more than £6 billion each year, according to the UN convention against transnational organised crime, threatening both wildlife and people.

At the 2014 London conference on illegal wildlife trade, heads of governments from more than 40 states recognised the significant scale and detrimental economic, social and environmental consequences of illegal trade in wildlife. They called on the international community to act together to bring this to an end.

wokello@ug.nationmedia.com

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