Criminal organizations in Uganda and East Africa are linked to ivory and of recently heavily linked to pangolin trafficking.
A third of hunters and traders interviewed in Uganda reported that traffickers take advantage of the weak border controls and security challenges in northern Uganda, Democratic Republic of the
Congo and South Sudan to offload the scales they collected, sometimes concealing themselves as impoverished locals to avoid detection at known checkpoints.
Several recent reports have identified
Uganda as one of the common transit points for the trafficking of wildlife and
wildlife products in the Central and East Africa region. Criminal organizations
in Uganda and East Africa are linked to ivory and of recently heavily linked to
Environment Investigations Agency (EIA) reports that Uganda alongside countries
in Central and West Africa have become the epicenter for trafficking of
pangolin scales and elephant ivory to countries in Asia by well-organized
EIA partner in Uganda, Vincent Opeyene of the Natural Resource Conservation
Network (NRCN) says this is linked to the insecurity in some of the neighboring
countries like DRC and South Sudan is fueling Illicit Wildlife Trade.
“Wildlife traffickers cross those countries to mobilize a bulk of wildlife
products in terms of pangolin scales and Ivory and move them to Uganda. They
use Uganda for collection and then distribute in small bits. Because the law
was initially very weak, if they are arrested, they could easily pay fines in
courts and get away with it” said Opeyene “And because of corruption, they can
pay and out without being successfully prosecuted.”
From DRC, EIA has worked with Adams Cassinga, the founder of ConservCongo to
investigate and track some of the illicit wildlife and items that normally
transit through Uganda.
Cassinga blames the Illicit wildlife trade on the insecurity in DRC on the fact that tourism based
on flora and fauna is almost nonexistent. So he says transnational criminals
tend to plunder wildlife to the detriment of DRC’s Security and sovereignty.
“Because most of the armed groups which are based in Eastern parts of the
country have found a safe haven within our national parks. They actually
understand these parks more than our security
agencies. And so revenue which is being generated from the sale of these wildlife
products, are the same revenues which acquire guns which are bringing
insecurity in the country” observes Cassinga
The insecurity resulting from the Illicit Wildlife Trade has got the attention
of Uganda Police and state security
agencies.The police have particularly began training its police commanders on
crimes after realizing that criminals use illicit wildlife products and fish to
“legitimize” laundered money.
“Owing to Uganda’s porous borders, weak law enforcement and deterrent penalties,
the country became an attractive trafficking route for illegal wildlife
products from central, west, south and east Africa en-route to Asia. This makes
the role of law enforcement very critical in combating illegal wildlife trade,”
said Dr. Nampindo Country Director, Wildlife Conservation Society while at
lecture attended by police commanders at the Police Senior Command and Staff College (PSCSC) in
Bwebajja before the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, wildlife crime is
a big business run by dangerous international networks, wildlife and animal
parts are trafficked much like illegal drugs and arms.
“By its very nature, it is almost impossible to obtain reliable figures
for the value of the illegal wildlife trade" says the report released in March
Quoting this report in relation to East Africa, the Director of Intelligence,
Wildlife Justice Commission, Sarah Stoner said since 2000, an average of
between 80 to 90 sampled case files show that transnational criminal networks are
engaged in seven or more types of organized crime including wildlife
“And this office conducted a study on larger amount of data on various serious
crimes in Eastern Africa. And they found that illegal wildlife trade was
converging with other organized crime, especially drug trafficking. And what was really interesting is the study found that Wildlife
trafficking could be regarded as soft underbelly of the criminal ecosystem. In
sense that understating wildlife trafficking better provides a gateway in
understanding into combating other serious crimes” said Stoner
According to Uganda Wildlife Authority, the iconic species such as elephants,
pangolins and lions continued to be poached even when the country was under
“We had 1987 suspects involved in poaching and related offences into the
conservation areas between March and June 2020 says Uganda Wildlife Authority
Spokesman, Bashir Hangi
According to Hangi, 60 poachers were arrested, over 4300 assorted wildlife and
wildlife products seized. He said of the confiscated poaching tools included 23
guns, five of which were Kalashnikovs or AK47. Most of these were from Queen
Elizabeth and Murchison Falls National Parks which contain rich wildlife including
elephants, lions, buffalo and crocodiles.
In June last year, 14 Chinese nationals were arrested and charged in court on
charges of illegal possession of wildlife species which included elephant
penises valued at Shs 17.1 billion, six tortoises valued at Shs 22.8 million and half kilogram of pangolin scales valued at Shs
According to Uganda Revenue Authority, by early January 2019, 762 pieces or 3.2
tons of elephant tusks and 432 tons of
pangolin scales were seized.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crimes report on Wildlife Crime: Pangolin scales,
2020 was one the most revealing documents about pangolins in Uganda, Nigeria,
DRC and Cameroon. It said Nigeria, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of
the Congo act as transit countries and logistical hubs for pangolin and
wildlife trafficking more generally.
“In fieldwork in Cameroon and Uganda, it was reported that Congolese and
Nigerian citizens act as traders and intermediaries. In the urban areas, the
goods are sold to international traffickers, primarily Chinese, but also some Nigerians and Vietnamese,” said the report released
The report says pangolin trafficking takes several stages from the hunter,
trader, intermediaries to the wildlife trafficker.
A pangolin hunter is
paid between $ 2.5 – 9 for a kilogram of pangolin
scales, $ 4 -14 per live pangolin, while the trader is paid between $ 13-40/kg
scales while intermediaries get US$ 135 commission per delivery (10 -16 sacks,
50 kg each)
The report which was recently discussed at a UN high level meeting on Illicit
Wildlife trade (IWT) said in Uganda traffickers take advantage of the weak
border controls and security challenges in northern Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan to offload the scales
they collected, sometimes concealing themselves as impoverished locals to avoid
detection at known checkpoints. This story was produced
by Uganda Radio Network . It was written as part of Wealth of Nations, a media
skills development programme run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. More
information at www.wealth-of-nations.org.
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