Dr Adrew Seguya, the executive director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, is pushing for a strict ban on ivory trade. Christian Basl talked to him about what the move would mean for Uganda and the sophisticated business of poaching.
In December, China announced the shutdown of their ivory market until the end of 2017. Now the European Union is also discussing a strict ban on ivory trade. Does this help the Ugandan elephants?
Of course it does! With a strict ban, like in China, it is getting more and more difficult to actually sell the ivory anymore. The biggest market was China and now they are saying: we don't want anymore.
We, the African Elephant Coalition (AEC), asked the EU for two things: first, to ban all ivory trade, international and on the local markets. Second, to include the elephant in the appendix of species threatened with extinction so that their ivory is only allowed to be traded under very special circumstances.
Our position has not changed: we feel that the EU should have supported that line during the CITES-conference last October and we are very happy that they are doing it now. Because almost 40,000 elephants are dying every year. There are only 400,000 left.
So, in ten years, the elephant will be gone. This should be a catastrophe to the world. If the EU bans the trade, then we have to deal with Vietnam, Hong Kong and Malaysia. But the ban from China is going to be a game-changer in the conservation of the elephant.
Many media draw a line between ivory trade and terrorism. And new researches also show that poaching is not necessarily linked with the financing of terrorist groups like the Lord Resistance Army. What do you know about the poachers in Uganda?
First, there is definitely a link between poaching and terrorism. New UN reports indicate that one of the biggest funding sources for LRA or Al-Shabab and their affiliates is actually ivory, poached in DR Congo, Central Africa or Chad.
In the last few years, ivory has overtaken drugs as a source of funding for criminal networks. The world needs to take interest in that. But if you look at the poachers in Uganda, most of them are people looking for food. We have also a middle-class that is very much interested in exotic bush-meat. But the biggest problem in Uganda is not the poaching in itself, but that this country is used as a conduit for illegal ivory trade. They use, for example, the airport for trafficking.
According to press release of your authority (UWA), the Ugandan parliament is about to discuss tougher measures against poaching, like 20 years of jail. But will tougher punishment help to decrease poaching, when the main motive for poaching is money?
There are two ways of fighting poaching in Uganda. First, we have to go in the minds and the heads of the communities living around the national parks. They need to understand, that they can get benefit out of the conservation of wildlife. But that is only the one side.
There will always be those people, who do not support conservation, simply because of food and for economic reason: they are in the business of poaching for criminal activity. Those ones should be prosecuted and sentenced to a lifetime in prison. All their tools of ivory trade, whether it is vehicles, warehouses or financial accounts, should confiscated
The poaching methods of today are getting more and more sophisticated. Poachers are hunting with helicopters, night-vision devices and heavy arms. What technologies do the Ugandan rangers use to fight this high-level methods of poaching?
We don't have that level of sophistication of the poaching in Uganda, compared to what we see in countries like South Africa. Most of the poachers in Uganda are using small arms and traditional traps.
But we as rangers are not sitting back. We are already using a software called SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool). This tool runs on Android and can be used by rangers when they are on patrols to note illegal incidents and their location in the park.
This helps us to create an overview map of the illegal activities in the park. We are also using artificial-intelligence tools in some of our parks to predict the movements of the poachers. And now we are thinking of getting surveillance drones so that we can see who is entering the national park and what kind of arms they are carrying.
In the last five years, about 25 Ugandan rangers died during patrols. What does the UWA do to protect the rangers?
We are now buying body armor for our rangers whenever they are going for patrols. And we are setting up an intelligence unit that gathers intelligence about the poachers that are entering the park. It is essential for our rangers to know what type of arms and what strength they have.