Uganda is continuously becoming an alternative route for poachers and illegal wildlife trade as culprits manipulate weak laws and porous borders.
This was revealed during an on job training of prosecutors from four regional countries with an aim of building proper advocacy in the justice system for the protection of wildlife and ensuring sustainable co-existence with communities.
According to the African Wildlife Foundation, Uganda has largely been manipulated by poachers and illegal dealers in wildlife products due to weak penalties that come on conviction with any offense.
The Wildlife Law Enforcement Manager at the African Wildlife Foundation Didi Wamukoya says “We started seeing so many wildlife crimes passing through the airport in Entebbe and yet they have reduced at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport. This means criminals are rerouting when they saw the high fines, the dogs and strict penalties, they probably re-routed to uganda.”
Wamukoya adds “Criminals are taking advantage of Uganda because their law in the region has less penalties for instance in Kenya has the life imprisonment for crimes involving wildlife while Tanzania has a minimum of twenty years term without the fine option”
The Uganda Wildlife Authority says curbing the illegal trade in wildlife has largely been complicated by the fact that it’s a trans-border kind of crime which allows culprits to escape from jurisdiction into another.
Different prosecutors from four regional countries are undertaking training on how to deal with cases against wildlife with focus on how to handle evidence and the different animal species with a focus on the endangered species.
While courts that handle such cases have attained commendable convictions, they are challenged by the security threats that come with their job from well empowered and rich dealers. These also have challenges on the technical front.
The legal counsel at the Uganda Wildlife Authority Annet Tuheisomwe says, “We as Uganda do not have any laboratory or data bank collection of the different types of animals that we have to be able to quickly clarify that the DNA of the different wildlife products”
In a bid to counter the high rates of offenses against wildlife, the prosecutors are awaiting stricter penalties on conviction.
Tuheisomwe adds, “Key in the new law is the provision for endangered species where the penalty will be life imprisonment. It will not matter how big or small the wildlife product is even if it’s one pangolin scale, culprits still get life imprisonment.”
Advocates for the safety of wildlife say poaching in the country has taken on largely commercial intensions. These are worry that mafias have even adopted new technologies such as use of drones and planes to target animals.