Police in northern Uganda are holding four people including two pastors over illegal possession and sale of elephant tusks.
The spokesperson of the Natural Recourses Conservation Network (NRCN), Ms Sharon Akello has told Wild Kanda that the suspects were arrested after undercover wildlife crime busters infiltrated the ivory rackets in this area.
Akello named the suspects as Pastor Richard Amos Primer of Life Impact Church, formerly known as the Church of God of East Africa, Pastor Ezelo Okethi of Full Gospel Church, Fabio Ochan and Mugisha Okello.
The quartet is being held at the Nebbi Central Police Station awaiting arraignment for the possession of protected wildlife species, according to Police.
Primer, Okethi, Ochan and Okello were arrested following a joint operation involving NRCN officials and the Police.
The officers intercepted the suspects at Nyaravur trading center on Nebbi- Pakwach road, after picking up the ivory trophies from Pamora Village in Nyaravur sub-county, on Saturday.
“We have been trailing them using the informers,” said Okello. “We have the evidence which will be used during prosecution.”
She says the suspects were all traveling in a grey Premio, which is now parked at Nebbi Police Station.
The four were found in possession of ivory trophies, contrary to the Uganda Wildlife Act and International laws, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna (CITES).
Santos Thomwa, the officer in charge of Nebbi Police Station confirmed the arrest of the suspects.
Thomwa told us that after they confirmed that at one time, undercover intelligence officers pretending to be ivory buyers approached the suspects and indeed they were forthcoming – something that prompted the rest of the team to move in on the suspects.
Thomwa also confirmed that the Police have preferred a charge being in possession of protected wildlife species, against the suspects.
Elephant are listed under Appendix 1on the CITES list, meaning that elephants will disappear if their habitat is destroyed and or ivory trade continues.
According to a recent census conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Uganda is now left with just 50,000 elephants.
The census covered three of the largest wildlife reserves, namely, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls National Park and Kidepo Valley National Park, where most elephants in Uganda are habited.
Less than 2,000 elephants remained in Uganda after being over poached in the 1970s and 1980s, during the period of civil unrest and political turmoil.
There has been a sign of improvement in numbers but as poaching reaches fever pitch, the African elephant faces a bleak future.
Akello said that the ivory poached in African countries is exported mainly to China and Indonesia where rich people use it for their own outrageous luxuries including making toothpicks out of ivory as a status symbol.
Such a demand for ivory coupled with the increasing wealth of the middle-income class in China, is pushing elephants to the brink of extinction.
Ivory has become luxury business that attracts huge profits, something which is not good for the elephants, Akello added.
Last year alone, Uganda law enforcement managed to intercept in excess of 1.5 tonnes of ivory from poachers and traffickers.
In Uganda, a kilogram of raw ivory on the black-market fetches about UGX370,000 (around $100).
On the other hand, elephants contribute more money to the economy through tourism than the poached ivory.
The relentless and ever increasingly sophisticated poaching, plus the unchecked demand for ivory products in Asia have set the planet on a path to losing the world’s largest land mammal – a treasure.
Thankfully, there are women and men all over Africa putting their own lives to save these majestic creatures and nature in general.
Statistics from UWA reveal that at least 104 poachers have been arrested in the parks countrywide while over 75 have been convicted in the past five years.