NEW IVORY SEIZURE IN MOMBASA PUTS SPOTLIGHT ON UGANDA AGAIN
(Posted 08th October 2013)
The seizure last weekend at the port of Mombasa of a container with nearly 2 tons of ivory concealed among the cargo of seeds, put fresh spotlight on Uganda. Only a few weeks ago were two containers seized at a cargo yard, likely as a result of a tip off, where a big consignment of blood ivory was subsequently confiscated by customs, security and wildlife officers. Those containers had originated from Uganda, as did the container which got nabbed last Friday. Official sources in both Kenya and Uganda are tightlipped as to where the ivory could have come from, as poaching numbers in Uganda are relatively low compared to those in Tanzania, Kenya itself or, as is suspected, in either Eastern Congo’s Garamba National Park or the parks in South Sudan.
‘It is premature to point fingers at this stage. What is confirmed is that the container came from Uganda. What we do not know is where the ivory came from. Forensic tests have been ordered but those will take time. We don’t even have the results yet of the ivory shipment we got a few weeks ago. We know that Uganda’s poaching figures are very low, so there is suspicion the ivory could have come from neighbouring countries and you can look at those countries which could be fingered. We know it is most unlikely Rwanda because there they enforce anti poaching with overwhelming power. But there are other candidates, in particular where there is civil unrest and internal strife. Those are breeding grounds for poaching because law enforcement is lax or not bothered with such crimes when they have to deal with human conflict’ said a Mombasa based source close to the action, and credible does his explanation sound. Another source contacted in Nairobi made reference to the vigilance of enforcement personnel in Mombasa and paid tribute to the officers involved when he wrote: ‘The number of containers found with ivory or other illegal wildlife products in them has increased a lot since about two years ago. That means that the deployment of sniffer dogs has worked. The added technology now available is also helping to scan containers and the idea is to eventually scan every single container before it goes on a ship. Kenya has been blamed for being not fully committed to fight poaching and the trade but Kenya in fact is committed. There is no way we can allow elephants to be butchered like in other countries. The numbers here run into the low hundreds and that is not acceptable, but not like in other places where they talk of thousands. You must also look at the track record of what is being seized in Nairobi at JKIA [Jomo Kenyatta
International Airport] and how our courts are now handling those cases. In the past the culprits got away with a small fine and now they go to prison for several years and have to pay a huge fine on top. So I think Kenya should be commended and not blamed for catching ivory shipments especially when it is clear they are from third countries’.
In Uganda itself it was not possible to get an immediate comment from any of the top managers of UWA but it is known that the Uganda Wildlife Authority has reported only a handful of poaching incidents, and some of those were caused by outraged villagers trying to fight off the jumbos from entering their farms and eating their crops.
In summary though it is lamentable that with all the activity going on to make poaching a major economic crime and to name and shame countries involved in the importation of blood ivory, the flow of such illegal contraband seems to continue unabated, as in the last few weeks again major hauls were intercepted in ports of the Far and South East and in the Middle East where shipments are channeled through. This battle has only just started and there will be a long way to go until all countries involved will have come to an international agreement to stop the illegal trade and make possession of blood ivory a criminal offense with long sentences and crippling financial fines being handed down by courts. Watch this space.