Law enforcement officers and intelligence unit staff of the Uganda Wildlife Authority(UWA) are undergoing a week long specialized training in combating illicit trade in wild fauna and flora, at the Fairway Hotel and spa in Kampala.
The training which opened on Monday February 9th, 2015 is jointly organised by the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) and UWA .It is funded by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.
Opening the training in Kampala on Monday, he LATF director based in Nairobi, Mr.Bonavenuture Ebayi, said this training is being held at a time when the entire world and Africa in particular is striving to stop illicit activities in wild fauna and flora especially the iconic endangered species such as elephants, rhinos and great apes. This vice not only destroys our ecological balance and rich heritage that we depend on, but also deprives states and communities of sustainable economic opportunities and revenues, he added.
The director said in the recent past, large quantities of wildlife contraband, especially elephant ivory, originating from Africa has been seized across the world and mainly in Asia with a big proportion having exited Africa mainly through East Africa. Over the last five years, from 2009-to June 2014,he said,LATF has recorded over 90 significant seizure incidents of wild fauna and flora specimens,82% of which comprised ivory weighing over 92,000 kg. Of the total ivory seized,42%,30% and 14% originated or was transited through Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda respectively.
In 2013,he said, a total of four main incidents were recorded that involved 832 pieces weighing 2,903kgs of ivory seized in Kampala while enroute to Mombasa,956 pieces weighing 2,898 kgs and 686 pieces weighing 1,956.15kgs as well as 1,478.4kgs seized at Mombasa port enroute to Malaysia and in 2011 a total of 359 elephant tusks weighing 1,500kgs were intercepted in Colombo Sri-Lanka originating from Uganda and exported through Mombasa port
The recent incident involving an illegal consignment of 7 boxes containing 791 kgs of elephant ivory and 2,029 kgs of pangolin scales intercepted at Entebbe Airport on 21st January,2015 is a live testimony of the ongoing concern, said the director.
In its efforts to address wildlife crime scourge, LATF in collaboration with the Lusaka Agreement member states and partners ,has coordinated a number of successful inter-regional enforcement operations such as those code named CORBRA that bring together African and Asian agencies to address wildlife crime across the two continents. In early 2014, Operation CORBRA II led to the arrest of more than 400 criminals including kingpins in Africa and Asia, disruption of criminal syndicates as well as seizure of 36 rhino horns, over 3 metric tons of elephant ivory, over 10,000turtles,over 1,000 skins of protected species, over 10,000 European Eels and more than 200 metric tons of rosewood logs.
He said LATF has been issuing alerts, sharing criminal information and investigating seizure incidents of cross border and /or international nature with Uganda which, resulted into prevention of illegal killing of rhinos, special measures by government regarding illegal exploitation and export of sandalwood specimens, arrest and prosecution of wildlife law offenders mainly associated with ivory, rhino horns, reptiles and pangolin scales smuggling.
The director recognized UWA, Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities and other agencies, airport authorities and URA for their significant contribution and support in combating illegal wildlife trade and exploitation in Uganda and the region at large.
The training to UWA staff has been specially tailored to impart the trainees with knowledge and skills in intelligence for effective intelligence led enforcement operations, investigation technique to support prosecution of wildlife cases. The training is also hoped to revitalize officers with CITES enforcement and compliance skills as well as revisit key elements of ethics vital to maintaining standards during law enforcement operations and investigations.
UWA Executive Director Dr. Andrew Seguya the illicit wildlife trade was lucrative only comparable to drugs and is so secretive that it requires inter agency collaboration to fight. He noted that over the last five years, the region has witnessed an escalation in this trade .He observed that UWA needs to build capacity of staff to detect, probe and take action against the offenders.
Mrs Grace Mbabazi Aulo, the acting director of Tourism who represented her permanent secretary, said there are ongoing efforts to revise laws to provide for stiffer penalties for the offenders, strengthening the capacity of the law enforcement personnel ,enhancing inter-agency collaboration, intensifying public awareness, elimination of demand for wildlife species and several community initiatives. She said the ministry of ready to provide all the necessary support in the fighting of the crime.