Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has recovered several guns from suspected poachers at Murchison Falls National Park in a span of six years, an official said last week.
Mr Tom Okello Obong, the conservation area manager at the park, confirmed the development while addressing journalists at Wildlife Education Centre in Nwoya District. “We have recovered 18 AK47s from armed poachers in the last six years while we lost 25 elephants to the poachers who kill them for their tusks.”
He added that the recovery was due to intensive surveillance, deployments and intelligence coordination with local leaders, communities and police.
This newspaper has, however, established that most weapons used by poachers are guns that were hidden by Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels. Other illegal guns have been traced to DR Congo.
UPDF 4th Division spokesperson, Lt Ahmad Hassan Kato, confirmed the possibility of firearms used in poaching to be unrecovered weapons. “A number of returnees abandoned fighting without surrendering their weapons. ”
“Armed poaching is still high in Murchison [Falls] and we believe the increase has been due to weapons never recovered from the rebels but were hidden at secret points,” Mr Okello said.
Records from the park show that 200 to 250 armed poachers are arrested and charged annually.
Mr Julius Obona, a conservation warden at the park, said poachers from neighbouring communities hunt wild animals for game meat while those from far off places target elephants. “Elephants, antelopes, buffalos and hippopotamus remain the target,” he noted.
Statistics from UWA show Murchison Falls and Kidepo national parks have about 2,800 elephants – more than half of Uganda’s elephant population of 5,000.
To tackle the vice, authorities at Murchison have intensified intelligence coordination and installed CCTVs to monitor the park.