The continued poaching of elephants for their tusks is not a problem for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) alone as their welfare, improved or otherwise has real consequences for the rest of us and we should sit up and take notice.
Numbers of the African elephant have been in free fall despite a ban on all trade in ivory about 25 years ago.
In the 1930s it was estimated that there were up to 10 million African elephants roaming the savannah of the continent. This figure has plummeted to less than a million since despite the conservationists’ best efforts.
Rising ivory prices are making the market in elephant tusks more and more lucrative, forcing the poaching networks to be more organized and sophisticated to beat the system.
Seven people are currently being held in Kampala for their role in a plot to steal 1,300 kg from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) stores.
On the black market a kilo of ivory goes for as much as $3,300 (sh9.5m). The illicit trade feeds Chinese demand for ivory figurines, jewelry and chopsticks.
This demand threatens to decimate our herds, which are down to about 500 in Murchison Falls national park, at one time had the highest concentration of elephants in Africa. Elephants also play a role in the opening up new water sources and opening new trails in the wilderness.
They estimate Kenya makes about $50m a year annually from tourists coming to see Elephants roam their great plains, we probably have just as impressive a herd that we can show off if we keep them out of harm’s way.
But beyond the millions of dollars we stand to lose if we cannot halt the slide in elephant populations, there are more pressing issues.
"It is bad enough that the land’s biggest animal’s numbers are plummeting and the environmental issues that may come with the extinction of this great beast, but of more immediate concern is the web of international networks that are driving demand and facilitating the supply of Elephant tusks...
Knowledgeable sources estimate that terrorist group Al Shabaab makes as much as $600,000 annually from poaching, monies that support their bloody agenda. The rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have been poaching everything from elephants to Okapi to sustain themselves in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The only way such groups, outlawed internationally, can derive value from their poaching is by working with global organized crime networks. The worry is that these same networks are used to traffic other contraband and allowing them a foothold in one’s country will not only fuel crime generally but can threaten national stability.
Is it any wonder that Uganda is fast becoming a hub for the trade in drugs, human trafficking and smuggling?
Conservation efforts have had patchy results partly because of the huge feeding needs of these animals. An elephant can consume about 800kgs of vegetation and 190 liters of water daily.
Southern Africa has made a case for the unbanning of the trade in ivory. They argue that with their elephant management programs which have been quite successful in slowing the declining numbers they need to sell their tusks, with the proceeds going to sustain conservation efforts.
Given the shenanigans that have been going on in UWA it seems clear that they need to be better staffed to not only battle poaching but to secure the confiscated materials they have in their store.
Wildlife authorities may also want to have wildlife conservation inserted into the school curriculum to increase the appreciation for these animals – not only elephants, and how to live with them.
"In the medium to long term dwindling elephant numbers are an environmental issue in the short to long term it’s about letting criminal gangs come in and take over our country.... And that is not hyperbole.