Wednesday, 26 November 2014

How smuggling ivory limits tourists from streaming in

Uganda Wildlife Authority executive director Andrew Seguya (C) with law enforcement officials display ivory impounded in Kampala in 2012. Mr Seguya says the consignment is used to make chop sticks and jewelry in Middle East, mostly China.

Kampala. It was supposed to be the biggest day to showcase Uganda’s tourism to more than 1,300 foreign delegates from the world travel industry. They had convened in Kampala for the Africa Travel Association Congress, the biggest event in Africa’s tourism.
Twenty two foreign journalists had been flown in as part of the country’s marketing initiatives of its tourism attractions to boost Uganda’s image amidst stories of Ebola and Marburg that were scaring away tourists.
Instead, it is the missing 1,335kgs of ivory from Uganda Wildlife Authority’s (UWA) strong room that dwarfed the international tourism conference.
“It was a wrong timing,” Mr Amos Wekesa, one of the leading tour operators in the country, said reflecting on Uganda’s embarrassment before the international tourism fraternity. The alleged theft put Uganda on the spot for poor conservation credentials.
The ivory in UWA’s stores is collected from dead elephants or rescued from poachers.
There is also a worldwide ban on ivory since 1989, with only two sanctioned sales to China and Japan in 1989 and 2007. All forms of ivory trade are also illegal in Uganda.
However, loopholes in the system expose the animals in the parks to the lucrative illicit trade. The ivory said to be missing in the stores has been valued at $1.1 million (Nearly Shs300 billion).
Tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in Uganda’s economy. Last year, it grew at 21 per cent. The industry, therefore, has become one of the leading foreign exchange earners ahead of coffee, fish and fish products, tea and cotton.
More than $1.4 billion (Nearly Shs4 trillin) is collected in Uganda from tourism alone and there are more than 1.3 million arrivals in Uganda making tourism a lucrative business at the same time a sector no one should be playing about.
Mr Andrew Seguya, the custodian of the UWA, currently on leave, was attending an international meeting, the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney Australia.
During the meeting, Uganda came under attack as one of the eight countries accused of failing to do enough to tackle the illegal trade in elephants. The countries had just escaped sanctions when they presented actions plans to respond to the problem.
Mr Seguya, who is under fire for failing to secure the ivory, however, he denies wrongdoing, saying he instituted the stock taking exercise on the stock piles to ensure the safety of ivory.
“Since 2012 to date, two ivory stocktaking exercises have been conducted at UWA. The two stock taking exercises were conducted on my instruction in June 2012 and in September 2014,” he told Daily Monitor.
The two audits are the only ivory stocktaking exercises on record that have taken place in the country.
When UWA was established in 1996, no ivory was handed over to the wildlife agency, even when there were elephants dying naturally, or ivory confiscated from poachers or traders.
“The September stock taking exercise is yet to be concluded. I have only seen purported results of this stock taking in the media, complete with analysis,” Mr Seguya insists.
The results of the exercise are expected at end of this month and will be followed by analysis and subsequently any actions that will need to be taken.
President Museveni immediately ordered for investigation to pin the culprits while the US ambassador, Mr Scott DeLisi, said: “We hope there will be an investigation and that the culprits will be identified and prosecuted to demonstrate commitment to wildlife protection.”
Illicit trade in ivory has doubled since 2007 and more than tripled over the past 15 years, according to wildlife groups.
Between 430,000 and 650,000 elephants are said to be remaining in Africa,
Uganda and other African countries experienced a global increase in volumes of ivory under illegal trade from around 2010 to date.
Mr Seguya says seizures of contraband ivory have also increased in Uganda in recent years.
The country began to register a high number of elephants poached in the national parks between 2010 and 2013.
In 2010, Uganda lost 12 elephants. In the subsequent year, the country would lose the highest loss after more than 40 elephants were lost to poachers while 26 died in 2012 and 22 in 2013.
However, poaching is worse in neighbouring countries particularly Kenya and Tanzania where more than 200 elephants are lost annually.
However, Uganda is a weak link in regard to being a source and transit country. This is largely driven by weak wildlife laws when caught. Mr Wekesa says it works against conservation efforts if one kills a rhino for instance, and he is fined Shs50,000 when the same animals goes for Shs500,000 on the local market.
He also blames legislators from protected areas who encourage rersidents to poach.
The tour operator notes that in Tanzania, 420,000 jobs were created last year from tourism related businesses, adding that if MPs want jobs to be created, they must support efforts by sectors such as tourism.
On conviction, poachers or traders get a maximum of one year jail sentence or a fine of Shs1m. “As a result, many illicit ivory traders found Uganda to be a favourable environment from which to export ivory,” Mr Seguya says.
According to Mr Seguya, elephant population is on the increase despite the challenges of illegal ivory trade.
This is happening even as most African countries are experiencing rapid declines in elephant populations since 1990.
Figures from the elephant population census for key national parks in Uganda, elephants have increased in Queen Elizabeth from 150 in 1980 to 2,900 this year.
Murchison Falls park has recorded 1,350 in 2014 from 1,400 in 1980 and Kidepo registered 552 from 400 in the same period, according to UWA Monitoring and Research Unit.
Uganda has continued to witness an increase in populations of key wildlife species particularly elephants, buffaloes, hippos and other big game.
“We still have challenges with carnivores whose populations are declining but this is not unique to only Uganda,” Mr Seguya says.
Mr Edwin Muzahura, the marketing manager of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), says tourists are sensitive on matters of conservation and ivory trade must be controlled.
Mr Stephen Asiimwe, the CEO of UTB, says UWA and other agencies should be given time to investigate the lapses.
“We need to look at the root. Let us look beyond the stolen ivory, where ivory coming from in the first place. All agencies and citizens should be concerned because conservation is everyone’s business,” Mr Asiimwe says.

There is an ongoing general capacity building, logistical support to acquire high tech equipment for surveillance and monitoring of the illegal ivory trade. Cabinet approved the Wildlife Policy in March and the technical review of the Wildlife Act was concluded and amendments are before the first Parliamentary Council.
UWA says they have recruited and trained 634 rangers in the last three years and set up an 80-man intelligence force to combat wildlife crime.
Police have sniffer dogs currently undergoing training at the police canine section that will be deployed on the porous borders as well as at Entebbe International Airport. There are also plans to acquire other high tech equipment, including a helicopter for UWA for wildlife surveillance and monitoring.
The Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) provided two ivory detectors to UWA.
One of the detectors deployed permanently at airport, has been instrumental in the ivory seizures. Last year, 13 of the 20 arrests of illegal ivory possession took place at the Entebbe.
The detectors have also been very handy and helpful for on spot checks along major high ways following intelligence tip offs of vehicles carrying ivory.
The measures have resulted in the seizure of more than 500 Kgs of illegal ivory and arrest and prosecution of 22 suspects in connection with illegal ivory trade between 2011 and November 2012.
In 2012, six pieces of raw ivory weighing 26kg was in August was seized while on transit to Kampala after tip off and the culprits arrested and successfully prosecuted.
In September 2012, three separate seizures were made involving 30kg of worked ivory at Entebbe Airport and a Chinese national arrested, two pieces of worked ivory and seven bracelets of worked ivory confiscated in a major operation in Entebbe and 279 pieces of worked ivory impounded in another operation in Entebbe.
Ivory is smuggled in forms of spears, polished ivory, bangles, necklaces, Finger ring, and Horn shapes.
Some culprits have, however, been just cautioned and left to go, or, fined to up to Shs.2.3 million. Dong Fuxian, a Chinese national was found in possession of 700gm of ivory in a form of a status on October 25, 2013.

Number of elephants that were killed in 2012 in Africa.

Highest number of elephants lost in the country in 2011.

Estimated number of arrests related to smuggling of ivory made involving nationals of Uganda, Vietnam, China, Kenya and Sudan.

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