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Tag Archives: Uganda
Organised crime gangs generate staggering profits smuggling ivory and rhino horn
Published: 15:33 March 23, 2014
Nairobi: Organised crime gangs in East Africa are generating staggering profits smuggling ivory and rhino horn with impunity, experts say, threatening both an irreplaceable wildlife heritage and key tourism industries.
Kenyan and Tanzanian ports are the “primary gateway” for ivory smuggled to Asia, where demand is fuelled by increasingly affluent markets, especially in China, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warns.
Last year, seizures of ivory shipments reached “record levels”, according to a recent Interpol report.
“Large-scale ivory shipments — each one representing the slaughter of hundreds of elephants — point to the involvement of organised crime networks operating across multiple countries,” Interpol said.
Organised gangs with insider knowledge and armed with automatic weapons and specialised equipment such as night vision goggles, brazenly use chainsaws to carve out the rhino horn or remove elephant tusks.
Veteran Kenyan conservationist Richard Leakey has now warned that drastic action must be taken, saying that known ringleaders in Kenya are operating with “outrageous impunity”.
The rise in poaching, with animals being slaughtered inside even the most heavily guarded national parks or conservation areas, show that the poachers have little fear of tough new laws designed to stem the wave of killings, he said.
“They could not operate with the impunity we are seeing if you did not have some form of protection from law enforcement agencies,” Leakey said, as he made an appeal for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to take action.
“It is a problem of a few criminals… the ringleaders are known,” he added, claiming that a core group of around 20 to 30 people were organising the mass poaching but that none had faced justice.
It’s a lucrative business: a kilo of ivory is worth some $850 (Dh3,121) in Asia, with UNODC suggesting ivory smuggled to Asia from Eastern Africa was worth over $31 million in 2011.
But such short-term and finite profits generated by the spate of killings are threatening the far more valuable tourism industry, which in Kenya and Tanzania is the second largest foreign exchange earner after agriculture.
“The African elephant is not currently deemed ‘endangered’ as a species, but its decimation in Eastern Africa could be devastating,” UNODC’s report read.
“In addition to the reduction in genetic diversity, its loss could seriously undermine local tourist revenues, a key source of foreign exchange for many of the countries of the region.”
But the region’s two large container ports — Mombasa in Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania — are also notorious trafficking hubs, funnelling more elephant tusks to Asia than all of central, southern and west African nations combined.
The two nations made up almost two-thirds of all large shipments of ivory seized across the entire continent from 2009-2011, according to the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), a tracking database run by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.
Seizures of containers crammed full of tusks — often hidden under foul-smelling fish or dried chili peppers in a bid to confuse sniffer dogs or discourage detailed searches — are regularly found.
Much of the ivory smuggled is destined for China, whose rapidly growing economy has encouraged those enjoying disposable income to splash out on an ivory trinket as a sign of financial success.
“Growing affluence in China, where possession of elephant ivory remains a status symbol, appears to have rendered China the world’s leading destination for illicit ivory,” the UNODC report added.
The smuggling of rhino horns is a bigger problem for Southern Africa, which has far more of the endangered animals. It is often done by air, due to the value of the horn and its smaller size.
But scores of East African rhinos are also being killed despite wildlife rangers often risking their lives to protect them.
But many escape justice: a recent study by the Kenyan conservation campaign group Wildlife Direct found that just four percent of those convicted of wildlife crime in the past spent time in jail.
Tanzania last year launched a crackdown on suspected poachers, operating under what was reported to be a shoot-to-kill policy and making sweeping arrests.
Leakey, 69, a Kenyan national and former head of the government’s Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), said with the “right management” stemming the poaching was “not an impossible” task.
He was key in stemming the rampant poaching of the late 1980s, bringing in extreme measures to combat poachers including sending helicopter gunships into national parks, and organising the iconic burning of stockpiled ivory.
“It is not valuable, it is tragic rubbish,” Leakey said, waving an ivory carving seized from a smuggler, the tiny tusk of a baby elephant.
“It is putting at risk our heritage… you can regrow a crop but you cannot regrow a wildlife species that disappears.”
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KAMPALA – The Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) has threatened to have a Congolese businessman arrested in connection to ivory it believes was smuggled into the country.
The man went to court claiming ownership of the recently impounded 832 pieces of ivory from Bweyogere, Kampala.
Speaking with New Vision on Friday at Nakawa High Court after the hearing of the case hit a snag, the URA legal representative, Bernard Olok, said they intend to apply for an international warrant of arrest for Emille Kayumba Ogane.
The Congolese national, who failed to appear in court despite a court order, is the director of Kayumba Company Ltd.
URA impounded the said ivory on October 17 last year from Ken Freight Forwarders.
Following the confiscation of the material, Kayumba sued URA and sought a court order to compel the tax body to release the ivory.
In the application filed before Nakawa High Court judge, Wilson Musalu, the businessman said he exported the ivory from DR Congo’s Goma through Bunagana border post into Uganda lawfully.
Kayumba’s court application indicates that his agent secured transit transport from Ken Freight Forwarders and a container but that the cargo was seized by URA on claims that it was prohibited and smuggled.
His lawyers now claim that because of the actions of the local tax body, the businessman has suffered loss of delivery time of the cargo to its destination – China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
They insist that the cargo was wrongfully seized while in transit to Mombasa, claiming the action contravenes the East African Customs Management law.
However, when the case came up for hearing on December 20 last year, Judge Musalu declined to hear the case and instead ordered that the Congolese businessman should appear in court January 10 (Friday).
In appearing in court, the judge had said, Kayumba would have to explain how and where he got the contentious ivory from, part of which Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) fears could have come from some of its reserves in Uganda.
But the Friday hearing flopped following the absence of trial Judge Musalu, who was said to be in Entebbe presiding over a criminal session.
Kayumba, who is the complainant in the matter, also did not appear in court.
According to Judge Musalu’s court clerk, the matter will be fixed for hearing on a yet-to-be decided date.
Katie de Klee, Daily Maverick
The African elephant is the world’s biggest land mammal; walking the earth at a dignified pace, the elephant has earned its place in the folklore and legend of many cultures. But this impressive creature is being slaughtered at alarming rate for its ivory: it is estimated one elephant is killed every 15 minutes. Check the time now; mark the moment the next grey giant falls. An emergency summit addressing the problems of the illegal ivory is to be held in Gaborone, Botswana at the beginning of December.
President Ian Khama of Botswana will open the summit, and Heads of State and representatives of African elephant range countries will be in attendance, along with high-level representatives from transit and destination countries.
The summit will aim to address the following topics: penalties for ivory trading, law enforcement, population monitoring and public awareness.
A study conducted by the Conservation Action Trust (CAT) found that there were radical differences in the legislation and penalties surrounding poaching in African countries. Punishment must be seen to outweigh the potential financial rewards of the illegal ivory trade, acknowledging the severity of the crime and acting as a real deterrent. Maximum and equivalent penalties should apply in all countries.
National task forces should be formed and an increase in law enforcement and wildlife rangers should be facilitated. Ivory poachers are now often part of organised, armed networks, better equipped and connected than the rangers trying to stop them. More worryingly, the money from the poaching is increasingly often going towards armed rebellions and terrorism. The recent attack on the Nairobi mall by terrorist group al-Shabaab was partly funded by the illegal ivory trade.
The threat to national and international security would also be addressed by better intelligence sharing amongst States, another issue that will be given some time for discussion in Gaborone.
The IUCN will also propose that there needs to be better elephant population monitoring at national levels, and more effort should be put into raising public awareness.
Although the summit calls for global action, eight countries have been identified as being central to recent surges in elephant poaching. These countries are source countries Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, transit countries Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines, and destination countries Thailand and China. These countries are known as the ‘gang of eight’.
If satisfactory action is not taken by these eight countries to halt the trade of illegal ivory, the IUCN is suggesting heavy trade sanctions on all wildlife products – including the lucrative orchid and crocodile skin industries. Tourism is one of the biggest industries in many African nations, and the heads of these states must be shown that the greatest economic value comes from the living beast, and not from its by-products.
At the beginning of the last century there were 10 million African elephants on earth. Now there may be as few as 400,000. According to IUCN, the number of elephants killed has doubled in the last decade. Southern Africa is their stronghold, but at the rate they’re being killed, in 50 years’ time there won’t be one wild elephant left. That would be an unforgivable indictment on our species.
The challenges were contained in the report the minister presented to the parliament Trade, Tourism and Industry committee on Thursday.
The other challenges the ministry faces, according to Mutagamba, include encroachment of national parks by the communities, human-wildlife conflicts arising from increased human and wildlife population.
The ministry report shows that the number of tourists coming to Uganda reduced from 207,000 in the year 2011/2012 to only 182,000 in the 2012/2013 financial year.
She attributed this to the general economic downturn in the world, negative security advisories on Uganda by the source markets (UK, USA, Australia and European Union), the war in Eastern DRC and last year’s outbreak of deadly diseases like Ebola and Marburg.
But she assured parliament that more efforts have been undertaken to increase the number of tourists to Uganda in the current financial year. Some of these efforts include active promotions and creation of awareness for tourism products on website, TVs, radios, newspapers and talk-shows.
In order to encourage and increase domestic tourism, UWA has refurbished and operated 3 bungalows and 10 cottages and a canteen in Mweya.
The minister reported that despite the setbacks, Uganda received top accolades as top tourist destination in 2012 from Lonely Planet, 2013 Certificate of Excellence about Queen Elizabeth National Park from Trip Advisor and inclusion of Kidepo National Park in CNN’s 10 best National Parks in Africa.
Bufumbira East MP Eddie Kwizera appealed to government to increase on the 20% share of the tourism charges given to the local communities.