16 November 2012

Uganda: Smugglers Arrested With Snakes at Entebbe

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has rescued 42 poisonous snakes and 147 chameleons that were minutes away from being smuggled out to the Czech Republic.

The reptiles had been stuffed in one box with markings indicating that they are from a Kampala- based company, SME Breeders - and destined to Frischolz Import and Export company in the Czech Republic. UWA Publicist Lillian Nsubuga revealed that they had been on the lookout for the consignment at Entebbe International airport

"Somebody tipped [UWA staff] off about a suspicious consignment. At first they thought they were drugs, but when they checked [one of the small bags within the box], they found they were snakes," Nsubuga told The Observer.

Surprisingly, the snakes, which had been each separately packed in a white neatly made bag, were lying above 147 chameleons, 55 of which had already died -letting off a foul smell.

"This is a very coordinated crime. The way the box was packed with chameleons down and snakes up shows the level of sophistication and it is unlikely that it was done by a Ugandan," Nsubuga said.

James Musinguzi, the acting Executive Director of the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC), where the reptiles are now being kept, says there were eight types of poisonous snakes in the consignment. However, the UWEC chief indicated that they were conversant with only one type - the Jameson Mamba, of which only three snakes were in the consignment.

Musinguzi says the rest of the seven types do not naturally occur in Uganda. The chameleons included the three-horned type, a rare species mainly found on Mt Rwenzori due to their love for cold conditions.

The Uganda Wildlife Act allows individual companies to breed and export wildlife but with clearance from conservation bodies such as UWA and CITES, but SME Breeders have never been cleared for this purpose. Musinguzi said the impounded reptiles will be kept at UWEC for some time to enable the conservation bodies to bring in specialists who will ascertain whether these reptiles are suitable to be released into the wild.

"We will do an assessment to ascertain their lifestyle and types because some of them are exotic and don't occur here," Musinguzi said, adding: "We don't want to introduce species in the parks that will disorganize the ecology."

The impounding follows another swoop in which UWA captured 13 pieces of ivory in a restaurant in Zana, a suburb along Entebbe road. Yet another 62kg of ivory were also impounded on Monday morning at the airport.

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