Poaching is a big challenge to the development of Uganda tourism, specifically affecting wildlife Uganda safaris and gorilla tours. More than 80 residents of Butambala and Gomba set off for a hunting expedition in Kyankwanzi. The four-day adventure turned into a torrid experience as the hunters spent the night in prison. The residents of Ggala village alerted the nearby Kyankwanzi barracks to come and arrest the group of hunters who were seen carrying spears, pangas , dogs, nets and baskets of food, some even bedding. On arrival, they hurried into nearby bushes to start hunting. At around 5pm, the intruders were arrested.
In just six hours, the group is believed to have killed over 70 animals including wild pigs, bushbacks, and one python. Following the arrest, the group of hunters was handed over to Bukwiri-Kyankwanzi police station for further investigations. Buikwe DPC Frank Natamba said that, they received a call from UPDF because they were near to the scene and they moved quickly to pick the suspects. The group of hunters from Butambala and Gomba, was found with 77 spears, 66 hunting nets, 29 dogs, 50 pangas plus several sacks of food. When defending them selves, the hunters said that, they were help people get rid of wild animals that destroyed crops. “We were told that people here [Kyankwanzi] were being haunted by pythons and wild pigs and that is what we specifically came to deal with,” they added.
Musisi, a father of 31, says he has been hunting for the last fifty years, as a hobby, and not for commercial reasons. However, the DPC- Natamba insists that they were hunting for a business motive. “We do not have a hunting ground here, neither did we invite any people to hunt wild animals; these people had other intentions,” he said.
However, some residents appreciated and praising the hunters for killing the “crop-destroying” wild pigs and the python which was threatening them. The hunters confessed that their ringleader, Saul Ssentongo, had asked them for Shillings 27,000 each for both transport and upkeep for this four-day expedition.He convinced us with a signed and stamped letter from the local council authorities of Butambala allowing us to go for hunting,” Musisi said. He added that these animals are great potential tour attractions as visitors to Uganda on gorilla safaris also want wildlife viewing.
Kyankwanzi authorities disowned the letter, saying it was not addressed to them and these were not licensed hunters. In his defence, Ssentongo, a charcoal dealer in Kampala, claimed this was a cultural activity. “It is part of our culture that we hunt at least once a year. If we dont, the spirits will be unhappy and we cant work successfully,” he said. However, he insisted that they had been invited by Ggala residents, but he could not pinpoint who exactly invited them. Peter Ogwang, Uganda Wildlife Authoritys assistant warden for problem animal control, says these people have consistently poached protected species and sold the meat at high prices in urban markets.
Peter Ogwang added that, these people collect their catch and sell it to a third party who, then, takes the meat to butchers in Kampala and other towns. Ogwang noted that although Kyankwanzi is not a reserved area, it hosts a multitude of protected species and it is Uganda Wildlife Authority’s duty to protect them.
“This corridor connects to National parks like Bwindi in the south, Kidepo, Queen Elizabeth and Murchison falls on the other hand. Therefore, many protected species wander in-between,” he noted.
Tourism is the second biggest revenue earner for the country. Uganda has attracted international attention for its tourism potential, with respectable organizations listing the country as one of the best destinations to go to. However, encroachment on wildlife areas and poaching are some of the issues that continue to hurt Ugandas tourism industry. Solving these challenges, especially those concerning local communities, has been difficult.
In 2010, another group of six poachers were arrested after being found with two guns and bush meat. In 2011, another group, of over 40 people, was arrested with two trucks full of meat, destined for Kampala. This is the biggest group of poachers nabbed in one swoop since 69 were arrested in Nakaseke in 2009.
After spending the whole of Wednesday at Bukwiri police station, the suspects were finally transferred to Kiboga magistrates court. Drama ensued at the court as all the suspects disembarked with their dogs; none wanted to part with them.
Unfortunately, the suspects failed to see the judge until 6pm as more time was spent trying to line up all the exhibits. They had to see the judge by all means since the Uganda Wildlife Authority could not hold them in custody and the police had already surrendered them.
Kiboga Grade I Magistrate Masitulla Mulondo presided over the court and charged all the suspects on two counts of illegal hunting and being found in possession of protected species. They all pleaded guilty.
Under section 75 of the Wildlife Act, cap 200, if anyone is found guilty of hunting, killing or in possession of protected species, they are given a fine of not less than Shillings 1million or imprisonment of not more than five years or both.
In her verdict, the judge stressed that the group’s activities were contributing to the extinction of protected wild species, and that it caused losses to government in terms of tourism revenue since the number of tourist attractions will declining. Although the state prosecutor, Charles Okeny, had asked for a deterrent sentence, the judge went for lenience since the accused had accepted their crime and did not waste court’s time.” At around 7:30pm, with the room getting darker as there was no electricity, the poachers were sentenced to four months in prison or pay an alternative fine of Shillings 500,000 each.
It was a passionate moment for some since they could not imagine being separated with their dogs. But then the judge ruled that the exhibits be taken by Uganda Wildlife Authority for destruction, including the dogs. Finally, some villagers argued that Uganda Wildlife Authority should appreciate cultural hunting and specify areas where people can hunt peacefully without endangering the existence of protected species as they argued that a cultural activity to hunt.
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