The recent outbreak of the COVID-19, more commonly referred to as the Corona virus early this year in China, and it is fast spread to neighbouring countries, sending tremors across the world, has ignited debate on the age-old subject of illegal trafficking in wildlife.
Scientists in China recently associated the outbreak with pangolin, a delicacy and source of traditional Chinese medicine. According to the Chinese scientists, the pangolin carries a virus that is 99 per cent similar to the COVID-19.
While scientists continue to study this relationship, the attention of the world will be drawn to the need to address the practice of wildlife trafficking. The pangolin, for example, is an endangered species that is on high demand in the wildlife market in China. While the COVID-19 challenge has forced the Chinese government to crackdown on markets that trade in wildlife, more needs to be done across the world to end the practice.
Countries in Africa, where most of the endangered animals are poached, should take the centre stage in this crackdown by joining international conservation efforts aimed at stopping the devastation being visited on rare species like the pangolins, rhinos and elephants, birds, reptiles, timber and medicinal plants
Wildlife trafficking with all its associated illegalities remains big business and continues to gain unprecedented international attention over the years as a result of a huge increase in poaching and concerns over long-term survival of already threatened African species like the pangolins elephants and rhinos.
What is not in question is that wildlife is an asset for rural communities in Uganda and elsewhere, with a huge potential for investment and economic development, for example, through tourism, which will transform the lives of our now young population. If we continue to allow illegal trafficking in wildlife, we are digging a deeper hole and in the process, reducing the options available for jobs for our people.
It is critical, therefore, that the conversation to tackle wildlife trafficking should take centre stage as we talk about economic development of Uganda, allowing the participation of communities that live alongside wildlife, who are key in the topic.
Over time, there have been several attempts and various approaches devised to deal with the already complicated matter of wildlife trafficking.
A comment, ‘Community engagement in preventing pangolin poaching in Nepal,’ recently published on www.iied.org, cites three key interventions that have been made internationally to tackle the practice; Increased law enforcement and strengthening criminal justice systems, reduce demand/consumption, and support sustainable livelihoods and local economic development.
The writer further argues, and rightly so that to date, most attention has been paid to the first two approaches, with relatively limited attention to the third strategy. Today, community-led approaches should be supported with emphasis on listening to voices of the community to get their perspectives on illegal wildlife trade and how best to tackle it.
I agree with the notion that local communities living around national parks can be key allies to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in its efforts to tackle wildlife crime. In so doing, UWA is building capacity to implement a community-based action plan, including working with volunteer wildlife scouts, intelligence gathering and supporting income generating activities and this should be supported.
Mr Rukaari is the president Uganda National Chamber of Trade and Investment.