The fight against illegal Ivory trade that has been spreading like a hopeful fire spilling to the overseas countries like China has now ignited a new fire in Uganda. With the alarming rate at which the Elephant species is likely to face extinction, drastic measures have been put in place. In the 1930s the population of wild African elephants stood at 5 to 10 million and by 1990 the wild African elephants were added to the list of critically endangered species. This number has since dropped to a paltry 600,000.
This mirror effect of nipping the issue in the bud was inspired by China that decided to join the fight against ivory trade never minding the great irony that China has the best market for Ivory. China publicly destroyed six tones of classified ivory spreading hope against illicit trade of commodity. In 2013 last year China invited all the members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in a campaign against ivory trade. Famous actors and athletes came to support and champion the campaign like former NBA all star Yao Ming who stated that the only way to stop killing of the Elephants is to stop trading in ivory, otherwise all efforts to save the endangered species from extinction would be futile should the demand for ivory continue.
The plight of African Elephants has been said to have stemmed from “the gang of 8”. These are countries that have done little to curb illegal ivory trade according to the CITES. The countries include Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda as well as transit countries Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, and top markets China and Thailand. Tanzania known for having the largest elephant population in the world has recorded a nearly 42% decline in its two leading sanctuaries, Selous Game reserve and Mikumi National Park. Last year, cases of classified ivory were on the rise biggest catch coming from Bweyogerere (Uganda) where URA (Uganda Revenue Authority) impounded ivory amounting to 1,903 kg (worth UGX 6.4bn) in containers destined for Mombasa. Later a Chinese and Guinean were arrested with 116kg of Ivory at Entebbe airport and other cases in Fort Portal town near national parks have been reported.
The illicit trade has been blamed on the corrupt politicians, with the poor headers at the bottom of the supply chain and rich individuals at the top. The headers use poisoned arrows to kill the elephants and in return are paid peanuts between $2.29-229. It is also rumored that the poaching is done in order to fund rebel groups. In a conference last year CITES warned to put sanctions on these countries if nothing is done to protect the endangered species of African Elephants. CITES requested they submit specific action plans on how they intend to tackle the problem of poaching and illegal ivory trade giving them up to March 2014 to prove that they have taken necessary measures.
With Tourism being a major foreign exchange earner in the region this may decline sharply if CITES decides to impose sanctions, all 3 East African countries could be banned from all wildlife trade. To ensure elephant population, conservationists have launched a campaign dubbed “Hands off our Elephants”. In Uganda tourism earnings rose to $805 million last year from $662 million in 2010, to protect the industry Uganda has decided to actively join the fight by taking positive measures in an action plan drafted and to be submitted to CITES. Some of the measures in the action plan have already started taking shape like the recent campaign launched by the African Wildlife Foundation communication officer Mr. Abiaz Rwamwiri against wildlife trafficking from suppliers and buyers. He said that the campaign will be popularized through advertising, billboards, written material and posters in buses and public premises.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in January this year mooted the idea of incorporating surveillance drones to help track down poachers. These drones are to be distributed in the major National parks and backed up by spies who would follow up and curb poachers in the park. UWA also has plans of incorporated new DNA technology lab to trace roots of this scourge in order to stop the illicit trade. The US government has teamed up with African members of the CITES by banning ivory products and further warned tourists not to buy or take home ivory souvenirs or jewelry unless they poses a permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service due to the endangered species act, unless the item in question is a warthog or antique with special documentation showing its more than 100years old.
Speke Uganda holidays in its small way is playing a role in restoring awareness and pride in Africa’s major attraction by paying homage to the elephant as it logo. Ditch the ivory today and have that spectacular holiday tomorrow.