(AA) – Dozens of spy cameras – donated by the Japanese government – are helping the Ugandan authorities combat poaching in a country that has long served as a transit hub for the illegal wildlife trade.
“We have managed to capture a lot of movement, of both wildlife and poachers, especially at Murchison Falls National Park,” Muhanji Jossy, a spokesman for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), told the Anadolu Agency.
In November of 2013, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency provided UWA with 65 spy cameras.
Jossy said the UWA was also using geo-location cameras – which have Global Positioning System (GPS) – when conducting patrols as a further means of tracking down poachers.
They were given the mobile cameras by the Uganda Conservation Foundation that received funding worth 100 million shillings.
This allows them to monitor all the major national parks in the country.
“Now we have evidence to present before court,” said Jossy.
In the past, he noted, poachers, once arrested, would simply deny all the charges in court.
“They would claim that we forced them to confess under duress. But now, we can produce real evidence,” asserted the official.
Maria Mutagamba, Uganda’s tourism, wildlife and antiquities minister, admitted on Monday that Uganda remained a transit country for illegal wildlife trafficking, especially the lucrative ivory trade.
“Between 2011 and 2014, 5.6 tons of raw ivory was seized in various parts in Africa and Asia and was linked to Uganda, mainly as a transit country,” Mutagamba told conservationists in Kampala.
She was citing a 2014 report by the Elephant Trade Information System, which tracks illegal trade in ivory and other elephant products.
In early 2014, police at Entebbe International Airport intercepted consignments of ivory worth some one billion Ugandan shillings (roughly $345,000) as it was being smuggled out of the country.
Investigations into the incident – one of the biggest scandals in Uganda’s recent history – remain ongoing.
On March 3, Uganda will join the rest of the world in marking World Wildlife Day.
In late 2013, the UN General Assembly urged countries to mark the day by adopting the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, Wildlife Fauna and Flora.
Jossy, the wildlife authority spokesman, said that close cooperation with customs – along with aviation police and clearing agents – had served to ensure that all consignments were opened and checked.
“There is a scanner at the airport, but we don’t have enough technology at times to detect the products,” he told AA.
The owner of the ivory seized in January had declared them as “telecommunications material.”
“Others place coffee beans over and under [the contraband] or shredded plastic bottles; the ivory is hidden in between,” Jossy explained.
According to the UWA, some would-be smugglers disguise illicit ivory as souvenirs, like bracelets or necklaces.
“How can you ask someone to remove their necklace at the airport?” Jossy asked.
UWA officials hope to amend Uganda’s 2000 Wildlife Act to include more stringent penalties for perpetrators, including both poachers and traffickers.
“If you kill an antelope, gorilla or elephant – which people will pay up to $600 to look at for one hour – you should pay the value attached to the animal species,” Jossy told AA.
Under the current law, violators face fines of 50,000 Ugandan shillings (roughly $17) or a month behind bars.
“Many of these poachers can afford the money; they just go back to the bush and hunt elephant,” Jossy fumed.
According to Minister Mutagamba, the Wildlife Act is currently awaiting review before Uganda’s First Parliamentary Council.