At least 30 representatives of government institutions gathered at the Source of the Nile Hotel in Jinja district on March 13th, 2019 to develop a strategic plan for combating wildlife crime in Uganda. This was the first meeting of the National Wildlife Crime Coordination Task Force since its formation in May 2018.
“Government institutions can no longer continue to work in silos, particularly when tackling a threat of a multidimensional nature, wildlife crime is a threat to wildlife conservation, national security and the economy” said Dr. Simon Nampindo, the Country Director of Wildlife Conservation Society, Uganda Program. “Every institution has different technical capacities and networks, by jointly working together, it will help to leverage these capacities to tackle wildlife crime in Uganda more efficiently and expeditiously.”
Despite countless interventions by varied government institutions and private sector players, wildlife crime has continued to thrive in Uganda over the last nine (9) years owing to the demand for internal trade in trophies, pets and medicine, the need for income, and to maintain cultural traditions. Wildlife trade and trafficking, particularly in elephant ivory, pangolins scales and hippo teeth has been recorded with the highest seizure cases in Uganda. Consequently, Uganda has been highlighted as a conduit for illegal wildlife products originating from the central, and western African countries to East Asia and listed among the ‘gang of eight’ alongside Kenya and Tanzania, in reference to countries that are doing little or nothing to curb illegal trade in ivory.
“The Wildlife bill has been passed, the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) have been deployed in our national parks and over thirteen (13) environmental desks have been set up in key government institutions yet wildlife crime continues to thrive in Uganda as more contrabands make their way through our country on a daily basis; what are we doing wrong?” Chemonges Sabilla, Deputy Director, Legal and Corporate Affairs, Uganda Wildlife Authority asked. “Clearly what we are doing isn’t working, it is time to return to the drawing board,” he proposed.
Members discussed key strategic and technical loopholes in combating wildlife crime in Uganda, the need to build trust among members of the security and law enforcement institutions, and implementing the strategic plan. They also analyzed the relationship between Illegal Wildlife Trade and trafficking and other crimes such as human trafficking, drugs and narcotics, arms smuggling and terrorism and concluded that they are all strongly linked and therefore should be the motivation for building national support and cooperation among regional and international task forces and environmental networks.
For the short term, NWCCTF plans to build the capacity of members in the application of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is critical for mitigating and dealing with wildlife products from other countries, develop Communication materials for the Civil Aviation Authority, Uganda Wildlife Authority and Uganda Revenue Authority to create awareness and reach a decision on whether to burn or sell the stockpile of confiscated wildlife products once it is centralized as a means of minimizing maintenance costs.
The Project Manager, Illegal Wildlife Trade and Wildlife Trafficking at WCS, Geoffrey Mwedde alludes to the fact that Wildlife crime robes the country of its natural heritage, local communities of their livelihood and threatens the national security because it finances insurgence which is associated with major international syndicates that have the financial muscle to test and destabilize a developing country like Uganda.”
Wildlife crime is a multi-billion-dollar criminal industry that is currently considered to be a transnational threat. To change the trend, government institutions are leveraging their various capacities to ease intelligence work, facilitate information flow, streamline and expedite the prosecution processes of all wildlife crime cases and ensure the effectiveness of agencies in their fight against wildlife crime.
The National Wildlife Crime Coordination Task Force was formed with the intent of facilitating the smooth sharing of information regarding intelligence, investigations, operations and prosecution of wildlife crimes and offenders. Founded in May 2018, the NWCCTF has a membership of 13 key government agencies that include: Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda People’s Defence Force , Uganda Police Force (CID and INTERPOL), Financial Intelligence Authority, Uganda Revenue Authority (Customs Department), Internal Security Organization, External Security Organization, National Forestry Authority, National Environment Management Authority (Environmental Police), Civil Aviation Authority, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions , Directorate of Citizenship and immigration control and the Civil Aviation Authority as the new entrant.
The meeting was supported by Uganda Wildlife Authority and Wildlife Conservation Society with funding from UK government, USFWS, and Batten Foundation.