Thursday, 10 May 2012

Poachers Test Uganda’s Tourism Potential

Days after a man was arrested with 67kg of hippo teeth and elephant husks, police in Kasese, in collaboration with park rangers, arrested five notorious armed poachers in Queen Elizabeth national park.

This was after they shot down two hippos at a place called Rwemihunda near Kazinga channel, about 14km inside the park.  According to a Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) official who talked to The Observer on condition of anonymity, the operational rangers were prompted by the gun shots. According to the district deputy CID, Andrew Salube, a group of 17 armed poachers entered the park on the night of May 2. But their operation was cut short when the gunshots that killed two hippos tipped off park authorities who called in police for assistance. “We got the suspects as they were heading to the Democratic Republic of Congo were they sell their game meat,” Salube said.

The poachers were intercepted with their two vehicles at Kinyamaseke trading centre as they made their way into Congo. The suspects were identified as Charles Bwambale, Peregerino Bwambale aka Pere, Mbusa Musisi, Lawrence Thembo aka Elephant and Deo Kyenge, all described as notorious poachers.  While being interrogated at Kasese police, the poachers revealed that they entered the park in a group of 17 people but seven remained in the park while five escaped. “We entered the park in a group of 17, but some of our colleagues escaped after sensing danger,” said Kyenge.

The suspects further confessed before police that it’s their group that has been killing animals in the park. When asked to produce the guns they used in the exercise, they said some of the guns were abandoned in the park. Salube noted that live ammunition was recovered on the scene and carcasses of animals observed. Inside the car they were travelling in, only two hooves and ribs of a hippo were recovered. The poachers are to be charged with counts of illegal entry in a protected area, unlawful killing of a wild species and poaching.

Due to increased poaching, Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo recently decided to embark on joint patrols following the death of a gorilla between Visoke and Sabyinyo volcanoes, an area that has been frequented by poachers in recent times. The joint patrols coordinated by the Greater Virunga Trans-boundary Collaboration (GVTC) saved gorillas of 49 snares put up by poachers to trap the endangered species. Most of the snares, according to a report released by GVTC, were found out to have been set up recently.

The renewed coordinated law enforcement efforts began mid-March and will continue for a period of six months, with the two parks sharing intelligence about the presence of illegal activity, which threaten the conservation of the park and its fauna and flora in this area. During the patrols, the rangers destroyed eight buffalo and hippo snares and five elephant snares. However, Uganda’s laws remain weak especially when it comes to such crimes like poaching. Usually, the punishment ranges from Shs 1m fine to two years in jail.

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