Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and police have recovered a tonne of ivory and taken three West Africans into custody following a joint operation in a Kampala suburb.
The seizure happened last Friday at Najjanankumbi, off Entebbe highway.
Two of the suspected traffickers are from Guinea-Bissau and the other is a national of Liberia. They had been under investigation for a time, said UWA spokesman Simplicious Gessa, and the trio is expected in court this week on criminal charges.
“They have been eluding Ugandan authorities by using new ticks such as packing ivory in containers with marble and perfuming them with paint to defuse the smell. This made it difficult for police sniffer dogs to detect the smell of ivory,” Mr Gessa said.
Wildlife and other local leaders likely colluded to facilitate the illegal business, he said, suggesting they are investigating a possible expansive racket.
Under Uganda’s Wildlife Act, the suspects, if convicted, face up to three years in jail or payment of Shs1 million fine or both. “This sentence is too small. They should be charged with other offences such as smuggling. I call upon other government institutions such as Uganda Revenue Authority to join the struggle,” said UWA deputy director for Conservation Charles Tumwesigye.
One of the suspects had been arrested over ivory trafficking earlier, but was freed because his visa had expired. It is unclear if he left the country or stayed put and, together with others, continued to run the network from a house in Najjanankumbi.
At the residence, the culprits used a saw with a silencer to cut the ivory into smaller pieces.
Yesterday’s cache were found in containers with clearance stickers of ENHAS, the ground and cargo handling firm at Entebbe International Airport.
Investors, according to Mr Gessa, are looking into the possibility that the ivory was harvested in either Tanzania or the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda was being used as a transit route by the smugglers.
He suggested that imposing multiple charges on the suspects could act as a deterrent to others until Uganda’s laws on anti-smuggling, poaching and ivory trade are strengthened.
A combined taskforce of UWA and police spent the whole of Sunday weighing and labelling the ivory to establish the quantity and value, a task that could take two days.