By Hailey Gaunt

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) made a distressing announcement last week: 15 tonnes of ivory have been seized within and outside its borders in the past five years.

The revelation came during the meeting of a national wildlife crime coordination task force in Jinja, Uganda and was originally reported by Uganda’s Daily Monitor. The task force, which was established after an escalation in wildlife crime and trade in 2012, brings together 13 agencies in the effort to combat poaching and other illegal wildlife-related activities in the country.

Other alarming statistics were detailed at the meeting by UWA enforcement manager, Ms Margaret Kasumba:

  • Uganda made 40 ivory seizures since 2013
  • 2,200 kilograms of pangolin scales were uncovered in January 2015
  • 1.3 tons of ivory were seized in February 2017

The numbers flesh out an already grim-looking sketch of dwindling wildlife populations on the continent but are in no way surprising. According to the 2016 Global Elephant Census, a three-year aerial survey of 18 African countries, elephant populations declined by 30 percent between 2007 and 2014 in 15 countries. The study also indicated that the rate of decline – 8 percent per year – is largely thanks to poaching. In many countries, the highest concentration of carcasses was found in dedicated conservation areas.

Further illustrating the sophistication of illegal trade networks and the possible corruption that fuels them, Kasumba reported that most people arrested in possession of ivory said it had been smuggled from the Republic of the Congo or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mr Sabilla Chemonges, UWA’s Legal and Corporate Affairs Director, stressed the importance of their mission:

“Wildlife crime steals from every current and future Ugandan and from the economy. We have been working in isolation and we have realized the need for synergy.” He added that, besides the task force, the government had set up special courts and wildlife investigation and prosecution desks to help expedite the processes related to the crimes.

At a time of increased consciousness through global campaigns, in-depth exposés – even promising political moves like China’s banning of ivory in 2017 — it might seem like the plight of elephants is looking up. UWA’s statistics serve a sobering reminder.

According to Network for Animals (NFA) campaign director, David Barritt, this is a time for increased vigilance. “NFA has been warning for years that elephant poaching is ramping up again, fueled by demand from Asia. The fact that some countries are now calling for the ban on the ivory trade to be lifted is encouraging poachers to kill elephants because they believe, if the trade is made legal, it will be easier to infiltrate poached ivory into the legal system.”

Footnote: Our picture shows NFA’s Paul Seigel and campaign director David Barritt, with confiscated elephant tusks in Uganda 20 years ago. That’s how long we’ve been fighting the evil ivory trade. The only difference now is that the tusks are shorter because all the big tusked elephants have been killed.