There are stories currently running on social networks especially face book, insinuating that Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is now part and parcel of the illegal ivory trade and that staff of UWA seem to be profiteering from the illicit trade in ivory.
This is not only unfortunate but a misrepresentation of facts as UWA is at the fore front of fighting illegal ivory trade and other forms of wildlife trafficking in Uganda. UWA is mandated by law to conserve Uganda‚Äôs wildlife resources on behalf of the government for the benefit of the present and future generations. It would be a disservice for the same UWA to champion the decimation of wildlife through illegal wildlife trade.
To demonstrate the resolve of UWA to curb poaching and illegal wildlife trade, UWA in 2013 established an Intelligence Unit, recruited and trained a specialized force of 80 intelligence officers that have been deployed in strategic areas across the country to help prevent wildlife crime as opposed to fire fighting.
The current ivory seizures being reported about in the media are a result of the intelligence network that has been established by UWA which works very closely with other security and law enforcement agencies. UWA has been actively involved in all international engagements and has used the opportunity of Uganda‚Äôs position on the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Standing Committee to participate in all international decisions to curb illegal ivory trade.
As recent as December 2013, UWA under the leadership of the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities participated in a high level African Elephant Summit held in Gaborone Botswana during which African countries that have elephants and are therefore potential sources of ivory, Asian countries that are major transit and ivory destination countries as well as countries that have strongly supported the strong measures against illegal ivory trade as donors and other Inter Governmental and Non-Governmental Organizations signed a declaration and committed to implement 14 urgent measures to curb elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade in 2014. UWA is spearheading the implementation of these urgent measures in Uganda.
On 19th December 2013, UWA working with Aviation Police after getting intelligence information,seized a consignment at Entebbe International Airport containing 440 pieces of raw ivory (elephant tusks) and 372 pieces of worked ivory in form of bungles and chop sticks. The consignment was destined for Malaysia through Lagos. On thorough examination of the boxes, 15 rhino horns were found stuffed together with ivory pieces and three of the tusks were marked with numbers similar to the markings we put on confiscated ivory that is kept in the UWA strong room. We are still investigating the source of the ivory including the marked ivory but this should not be surprising as UWA in 2011 dismissed a staff working as the Armoury‚Äô/Strong Room Clerk for involvement in the theft of 10 pieces of ivory from the strong room.
Some of the stolen ivory was recovered and kept at Central Police Station as part of the exhibits in a case file that was opened against the said staff and other accomplices.
Some of the lost ivory was never recovered and since it is already marked, it can always be intercepted as has been the case here. It is a misrepresentation of facts to state that because of this, UWA staffs are now part of the illegal ivory scam. The presence of 15 rhino horns in the illegal ivory consignment is an indication that some of the ivory may have come from elsewhere and was only transiting through Uganda as Uganda‚Äôs current population of 14 rhinos is still intact. Uganda records every elephant lost and the data on elephant mortalities over the last five years is too small compared to the illegal ivory that has been confiscated in Uganda in 2013 alone. That is why we believe that we need concerted efforts to fight this illicit trade that is clearly cross border in nature.
The ivory stock currently kept at Uganda Wildlife Authority is very safe and well kept in a strong room that is accessed through a password protected locking system operated by three officers. The door to the strong room can only be opened after entering the three passwords in the right sequence/combination. One therefore needs all the three officers to access the strong room. At the time ivory was lost in the strong room, UWA had lost a number of staff through terminations and as a result the password to the strong room was disabled and the room accessed by only the key. This has since been rectified and new passwords installed. We have also instituted stock taking inventories conducted by Internal Audit every three months to ensure that any losses from the strong room can be detected early. Since the loss of ten pieces of ivory between 2010 and 2011, no other loss has happened. The staff involved was dismissed and a case opened against him and other suspects (non-staff) which is yet to be disposed off.
UWA remains committed to fighting the illegal trade in ivory and other forms of wildlife trafficking and calls upon the general public and all government institutions and agencies to join hands and fight the illicit trade that threatens our wildlife heritage. Apportioning blame to UWA without acknowledging the efforts UWA is putting in place is very unfair and counterproductive.
Conserving for Generations.