Friday, 3 February 2017

UGANDA: Poachers To Be Sentenced To 20 Years Or Finned $60,000

As elephant population rises in Uganda, registering one of the high rising elephant populations in Africa, government is instituting measures to jealously guard these endangered spices.

Among the new ‘tough measures’ to be included in the amended Uganda Wild Life Act are maximum jail terms of up to 20 years and fines ranging up to UGX 200 million (USD 60,000) for poachers.

The Investigator has established that the motion amending the Wild Life Act is ready for tabling on the floor of parliament. Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Executive Director Dr. Andrew Seguya confirmed that the bill is already at the first Parliamentary Council.

Uganda has been hailed the world over for protection of elephants amidst their decrease in the continent. According to recent statistics of Aerial surveys seen by The Investigator, elephant populations in Uganda’s national parks have shown tremendous increase. The surveys were done across Africa by the Wild Life Conservation Society and the Uganda Wildlife Authority with funding from Paul G Allen as part of the Great Elephant Census.

“It is very encouraging to see elephant numbers increasing in Uganda as a result of effective protection in several parks, despite the rampant poaching and ivory trafficking across much of Africa,” said Dr Paul Elkan, a WCS Senior Conservationist involved in the surveys.

We can report that basing on Paul Elkans’ recommendation, government is not sitting back but strengthening more tight measures for elephant protections. Elikan said after the survey: “The strong Ugandan Government leadership, targeted investment in field based anti-poaching and anti-trafficking action, and trans-boundary elephant protection efforts will be critical to these sustaining efforts and addressing the poaching problems in Queen Elizabeth.” In 2015 Uganda faced one of the highest deaths of elephants in recent years due to poaching with poachers killing 6 elephants in Queen Elizabeth National Park alone.

According to Andrew Seguya, Uganda’s elephant numbers plummeted in the 1970s and 1980s because of widespread poaching and limited resources for the then Uganda National Parks. Elephants became confined to protected areas due to poaching pressures and numbers dropped drastically.

“But with improved protection since the 1990s and the creation of UWA, together with support from Government, donors, and conservation partners, elephant numbers have now increased to over 5,000,” said Seguya. According to the recent aerial surveys, there at close to 2000 elephants in Murchison falls National Park alone while Queen Elizabeth National Park has close to 3000 elephants.

Seguya attributes the increase in elephant population in Murchison Falls National Park to increased vigilance by the rangers and tight boundary controls. Uganda was labeled by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) in 2012 as one of the eight countries of primary concern in the ivory trade because of the volume of illegal ivory that had passed through Uganda.

While it is encouraging that elephant numbers are increasing, poaching remains a big challenge in Uganda and there is a need to remain vigilant. The discovery of illegally killed elephants in Queen Elizabeth Park recently means that Uganda is still not completely secure from poaching but the new survey results provide encouragement for conservationists when nearly every other country in Africa is showing drastic declines in numbers of elephants.

Elephants’ biggest enemies are the poachers (illegal hunters) who hunt it for its lucrative ivory. The current Act has weak laws and minimal fines for poachers. Government has through UWA amended the Act to have the poachers deterred due to the tight laws.

Under the new amended Act, poachers (illegal hunters) caught will be sentenced to pro-longed jail terms ranging up to 20 years. While fines will be increased from the current UGX 1 million (USD250) to UGX 200m (USD$60,000)

Stiffer punishments also await those involved in the illegal trade of wildlife products. The Investigator has learnt that under the proposed new wildlife Act any vehicle or cars used in transportation of ivory or wildlife products and any house or building used to keep or store the contraband will be surrendered to the state. Tourism State Minister Godfrey Ssubi Kiwanda acknowledged that the current Act needs amendment to address the poachers.

While meeting district leaders and parliamentarians from districts boarding the Murchison Falls National Park of Masindi, Nwoya, Kiryadongo, Bullisa, Nebbi and Oyam Kiwanda urged the leaders to engage their communities in desisting from poaching and encroaching on gazette park lands.

“As government plans to engage the surrounding park communities into better livelihoods and economic well being, we appeal that you (leaders) talk to them to desist from poaching,” said Kiwanda.

The leaders who included; Buliisa MP Stephen Mukitale Birahwa, Masindi Woman MP Jalia Bintu, Ongiertho Emmanuel (Jonam MP), Byahuka Geofrey Matongo the Bullisa district Vice chairperson and Simon Agaba Kinene the Buliisa district chairperson urged government to improve on the insfrastructure with and outside the parks so as to engage the locals better.

Tourism State Minister Kiwanda appealed to the leaders to sweet-talk the communities to reveal where they get their snares and poaching gears. “We are ready for peace talks. Lets engage the small scale industries making these traps, help us,” said Kiwanda.

UWA boss Dr. Andrew Seguya noted the in three years they (UWA) had seized over 7 tons of snares from poachers in Murchison Falls National Park alone.

“We have over seven tones of illegal gear used to trap wild animals in the park. We shall dispose them off as scrap to metal recycling. Others like wires that cannot be recycled will be cut into small pieces and buried,” said Seguya. He said the confiscation of such a huge volume of poaching gear had led to the reduction of illegal killing of wild animals in the park.

UWA assistant director, Murchison Falls Conservation Area, Tom Obong Okello said after the procurement process has been cleared the seized gears will be escorted to the recycling plants in Jinja by UWA guards to avoid them sneaking back into the community hands.