By Franklin Draku
Illegal global wildlife trade continues to threaten the existence of the endangered species, more particularly as demand for wildlife products increases.
A recent report by the Uganda’s Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) said the country loses about Shs2b annually in wildlife offences ranging from commercial poaching to hunting for daily subsistence.
The report said Uganda serves mainly as a transit route for wildlife trafficking, especially ivory. Over the years, authorities in Uganda have continued to arrest wildlife traffickers at the entry and exit points both at the border posts and the country’s only international airport, Entebbe.
In 2015, court records in the country showed that most of the culprits involved in ivory smuggling were Asians of Chinese origin and other eastern countries, whose penchant for ivory and other wildlife tokens has continued to drive the crime.
While poachers and those with small quantities of wildlife species are often arrested, the real beneficiaries, often playing at the background, are never apprehended and continue to pump in hundreds of millions of dollars into the illicit trade.
The FIA report said many central African countries have unregulated domestic ivory markets, including the DR Congo, Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, and Cameroon. Ivory bought at these markets may be trafficked through road and air links to Uganda and onward from there for processing and export.
In neighbouring Tanzania, the situation is not any different. In 2014, visiting Chinese government officials to Tanzania were accused of smuggling ivory and other wildlife species in their diplomatic planes, a claim the Chinese government denied.
A year later, a Chinese woman, nicknamed Queen of Ivory, was arrested in Tanzania, further lending credence to the involvement of Asian nationals on the trade. Yang Feng Glan, 66, was reportedly arrested with ivory worth $2.5m.
The civil wars in the DR Congo, CAR and Chad have also had adverse effects on the wildlife. Uganda’s notorious warlord, Joseph Kony, who reportedly operates in DR Congo and CAR, is said to be engaging in illegal trade in ivory for buying arms and ammunitions, killing hundreds of elephants in the process. The same happens to other warring factions operating in these countries.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the world is dealing with an unprecedented spike in illegal wildlife trade, threatening to overturn decades of conservation gains.
According to WWF, in 2011, ivory estimated to weigh more than 23 metric tonnes, a figure that represents 2,500 elephants, was seized in the 13 largest seizures of illegal ivory. Since that seizure, big consignments have continued to be seized globally, with most of it coming from Africa.
The organised crime groups behind wildlife crime target high-value animal and plant specimens, and operate through complex global criminal networks. Driven by profit, the activities of these groups can have devastating economic, social and environmental impacts.
Ben Janse van Rensburg, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) secretariat chief of enforcement support, said: “No one country, region or agency can tackle illegal wildlife trade alone. Collective action across source, transit and destination states is essential. On behalf of all ICCWC partner agencies, I commend the excellent work done in member countries.”
Some of the global “wildlife trade hotspots” include China’s international borders, trade hubs in East/Southern Africa and Southeast Asia, the eastern borders of the European Union, some markets in Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, Indonesia and New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands.
The illegal trade is not only limited to ivory. Tigers in Asia, leopards, pangolins and other species have all suffered the wrath of poachers and wildlife traffickers.
The WWF says wildlife crime is a big business, run by dangerous international networks. By its very nature, it is almost impossible to obtain reliable figures for the value of illegal wildlife trade. Experts at TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network<https://www.worldwildlife.org/initiatives/traffic-the-wildlife-trade-monitoring-network>, estimate that it runs into hundreds of millions of dollars.
An estimate by nature communications, an international organisation, puts the cost of tourism losses as a result of poaching of elephants alone in Africa at about $250m. The figures could be higher if other species are included.