Two weeks ago yet another attempt to smuggle Ivory via Entebbe International Airport was foiled by Entebbe Handling Services (ENHAS) Security team, Uganda Wildlife Staff and Aviation Police. For several years Entebbe International Airport has now become synonymous with Ivory smuggling, a problem that continues to destroy Uganda’s image internationally.
According to a report released by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) shows a clear increase in the number of large seizures of ivory (shipments over 500 kg) made in 2013, before the ivory left the African continent. For the first time, the number of such seizures made in Africa exceeded those made in Asia. Just three African countries – Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – accounted for 80% of those seizures. Large-scale ivory seizures are indicative of transnational organized crime being involved in the illicit ivory trade.
Just last year 1250kgs of Ivory went missing from Uganda Wildlife Authority Strong rooms, the UWA Executive Director Andrew Sseguya was put under investigation.
In March 2013, based on the findings of European Tourism Indicators System (ETIS), CITES identified eight countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, China, Malaysia, The Philippines, Thailand, and Viet Nam) as the most heavily implicated in the illegal ivory trade chain as source, transit or destination countries. CITES took decisions at that time requesting all eight countries to develop and implement National Ivory Action Plans to tackle the elephant poaching and smuggling crisis.
“Africa’s elephants continue to face an immediate threat to their survival from high-levels of poaching for their ivory and with over 20,000 elephants illegally killed in 2013 the situation remains dire. Due to the collective efforts of so many, we also see some encouraging signals, but experience shows that poaching trends can shift dramatically and quickly, especially when transnational organized crime is involved,” said John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES.
Southern Africa continues to hold the lion’s share of Africa’s elephants, holding close to 55% of the known elephants on the continent. Eastern Africa holds 28% and Central Africa 16%. In West Africa, less than 2% of the continent’s known elephants are spread over 13 countries.
Poverty (measured by infant mortality rates) and weak governance (measured by law enforcement capacity and corruption levels), together with demand for illegal ivory in consuming nations are three key factors linked to higher poaching levels.
Overall poaching numbers were lower in 2013 than in 2012 and 2011 – but they continue to exceed 20,000. The report warns that poaching levels will lead to continuing declines in the African elephant population.
According to another report released by the Environment Investigations Agency (EIA) last year indicated that a Kilogram of Ivory goes for $700 -$1000 (approximately Uganda Shs. 2million – 3million). In Countries like China, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia ivory is widely believed to cure several ailments. Archaeologists and historians have recovered many practical tools made out of ivory: buttons, hairpins, chopsticks, spear tips, bow tips, needles, combs, buckles, handles, billiard balls
In the first half of the 20th century, Kenyan elephant herds were devastated because of demand for ivory, to be used for piano keys.
The report identifies monitored sites where poaching is increasing (33% of monitored sites), including Dzanga Sangha (Central African Republic), as well as those sites where a decline in poaching has been observed (46%), such as Zakouma National Park (Chad). Some populations of elephants continue to face an immediate threat of local extinction.
In my view arresting, detaining and eventually sacking Entebbe Airport Staff is mere circus, comedy and futile way to deal with the problem. Many will agree with me that arresting and detaining Entebbe Airport Staff hasn’t stopped ivory from being smuggled. Dealing with Ivory Smuggling requires more than just arresting and detaining staff at Entebbe Airport.
Key to addressing ivory smuggling in Africa would require collective effort from countries that have elephants as a major tourist attraction to find lasting solutions to poverty, weak governance and corruption levels factors encouraging increased poaching of elephants.
Unless leaders in Africa spearhead the campaign for the conservation of all endangered species, the trade in illegal ivory will increase poaching and hence make elephants, Rhinos and other endangered species extinct in Africa.