UWA, URA ACQUIRE SKILLS TO FIGHT ILLEGAL WILDLIFE TRAFFICKING
Law enforcement staff from Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda Revenue Authority and the Ministry of Tourism, Willdife and Antiquities (MTWA) is this week at Protea Hotel, Entebbe for a training workshop on “prevention of Wildlife Trafficking” training.
The second training in two years is supported and facilitated by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).It is a build up from the earlier training in May 2015 that attracted the participation of sister institutions from Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopian DRC and South Sudan. Uganda Wildlife Authority is happy to be associated with this inter-agency training program on Prevention of Wildlife Trafficking.Below are the remarks from Mr. John Makombo, UWA’s Director of Conservation who represented the Executive Director at the opening ceremony.
As we may realize, Wildlife trafficking is no longer an issue of wildlife authorities alone. Wildlife trafficking is now globally recognized as one of the top most crimes and key source of funds for terrorists. It has been categorized by UN among the serious crimes alongside drug trafficking, human trafficking and arms trafficking.
Indeed Chief Guest, we have noticed an increase in illegal wildlife trade over the past few years. The rate of ivory trafficking through Uganda has increased and we believe that Uganda is being used as a transit route. This is because Uganda has been found to have weaknesses in the law enforcement and the Law enforcement sector. Sometimes it could be related to weak and inappropriate deterrent penalties for offenders. On the other hand, enforcement officers of various departments are too delinked with inappropriate coordination mechanisms. We have also noticed that a number of officers do not have the knowledge and tend to take wildlife products as minor issues. These are some of the many issues that are failing us in combating wildlife and other crimes.
Dear Chief Guest, tourism is now the leading foreign exchange earner in our country here. Over 90% of tourism in Uganda is nature based. Wildlife trafficking is hence a threat to this growing industry and this is why we need to do everything possible to ensure that such a young vibrant industry is not crippled.
We therefore need to jointly come up with strategies that will help us strengthen our enforcement systems as UWA and other wildlife authorities in other countries can never be everywhere. We now need the Customs staff and enforcement staff from other agencies manning the borders to join hands with us in stopping trade in wildlife and wildlife products. In fact border enforcement staff are at the forefront of areas where these products find their ways out or across the borders. However, most of them don’t understand that these wildlife products are of high value and trade in them is very detrimental to the survival of our national heritage. They need, therefore, to be sensitized and be equipped with knowledge which will enable them enforce the law at the border areas where the contraband are trafficked.
As a country, I am happy to note that we are revising the national legislation on wildlife to provide deterrent punishments and also comply with CITES. Possibly, this will help us reduce or stop wildlife traffickers who are using the Ugandan soil as a transit route. We need to ensure that wildlife traffickers once apprehended should not be treated with kid gloves but be handed deterrent sentences that will send out tough signals.
Uganda Wildlife Authority has created an intelligence section to help in detecting wildlife crime and prevent it instead of dealing with post mortem issues. We have deployed at the Airport as well, and this has helped us detect ivory trafficking at the airport as the presence of our staff and their activities have created great awareness and lessons that other law enforcers have picked. We are beginning to see a change in packaging behavior of wildlife products, meaning that the traffickers are also taking cautious steps and no longer take this trade for granted. The recent discovery of ivory in drums labeled with Shear butter posters is a manifestation of the fear the enforcement efforts are sending out. We therefore need to create greater fear through our operations as we continue to discover their concealment methods. However, we should also take note that as we design these strategies, the highly organized criminal gangs involved in wildlife trafficking are equally designing counter measures to evade detection by enforcement agencies. This calls for greater vigilance and continued innovations in our operations.
Chief Guest, as we conduct this training, we should also keep it at the back of our minds that there are other underlying challenges that may contribute to our failure to meet our goals – including the issue of porous borders, insecurity in some of the neighbouring states that creates spillover effect, limited equipment for surveillance within and outside protected areas, pressure for land for cultivation (and settlement) by communities, human-wildlife conflicts and others that need to be addressed if we are to effectively control wildlife trafficking and other wildlife crimes. We therefore need further support beyond training of personnel to be able to deal with these challenges. We should consider other logistics like acquisition of helicopters, drones and other equipment needed to fight the vice. Training is good but not good enough if it is not backed with equipment and other resources to effectively fight the vice.
I am happy that IFAW has continued to support us in capacity building as this is the second training in prevention of wildlife trafficking in Uganda. We are grateful for the support. I also recognize the cooperation and collaboration between various enforcement agencies in Uganda in the fight against wildlife trafficking, specifically URA which has sometimes singly impounded some of the wildlife contrabands. I am also grateful that URA has continued to accept to partner up with us in organizing and hold these trainings. I know that we also work well with Police, the Army, INTERPOL and Local Governments. This kind of collaboration is the reason why some of the big seizures have been made without a lot of hassling from UWA. We shall continue to engage all stakeholders as we raise awareness about wildlife trafficking.
Let me finally thank the participants who have willingly left their other responsibilities to come for this training. We look forward to positive outcomes from this training and its our hope that it will go a long way in building capacity to curb wildlife trafficking in Uganda.
I thank you and wish you a fruitful training.