Wildlife officers register the ivory confiscated at the Juba International Airport in June 2016 (photo Credit: Wildlife Ministry)

By Opio Jackson

The Government of South Sudan has requested the Court in Kampala to handover the Ugandan Ivory trafficker who was arrested with 1,268 kgs of ivory at Juba International Airport in 2016 to be tried in Juba.

Mr. Tadeo Kyewalyanga, a Ugandan defendant was arrested on the 15th June 2016 at Juba International Airport with 1,268kgs of ivory concealed in 25boxes.

The 25 boxes containing ivory (Elephant tusks) were loaded from Entebbe International Airport on RwandaAir and were to be transported to Malaysia via South Sudan; apparently the contraband was declared as dry food.

Major General Khamis Adieng Ding, Spokesperson of the Ministry of Wildlife, Conversation and Tourism said the Court hearing had already begun in Juba before the suspect was bailed.

“The process of the Court hearing had started in Juba before the suspect was bailed by one of our own citizens. When he was expected to appear before the court, the person who bailed him claimed that he had died,” Maj. General Ding said.

“This was a clear attempt to cover up the case by claiming that the suspect had died. They believed that South Sudan is a very young country and could not follow up the case,” he added.

He said the Court demanded the one who bailed the suspect to provide death certificate as evidence and fortunately the suspect was re-arrested in Kampala for a different crime.

The seized 1,268kgs of ivory are kept in the store at the Ministry of Wildlife, Conservation and Tourism but according to the weight bill there were 50 boxes of ivory and extra 25boxes that were later arrested in Uganda.

Maj. General Ding insisted this was a crime committed in the Republic of South Sudan and the suspect must be tried in Juba but not in Kampala.

He said after testing the DNA, they discovered that the ivory were collected from Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Congo Brazzaville, Tanzania and other countries.

“This shows that gangs were well organized and they are spread all over Africa,” he said.

The Spokesperson of the Ministry of Wildlife further said the Government of South Sudan was very serious on this issue and wanted to show to the world its commitment in conserving wildlife.

Last month, the Interpol Groups consisting of a team from the Head office of Interpol in France, the Regional office in Nairobi and delegates of Wildlife authority of Uganda and National Central Bureau of Interpol in Kampala visited Juba to follow up the seized ivory at Juba International Airport.

The Ugandan defendant Mr. Tadeo Kyewalyanga was discovered to have connections with people in Hong Kong and other parts of the world following the communication surveillance carried out by the government.

“We collected the documents of the suspect including telephone number and after surveillance, we realized that Mr. Kyewalyanga was connected with almost the whole world,” Maj Gen. Ding said, adding that through monitoring the suspect’s communication, they would trace out more wildlife traffickers.

However, Maj. Gen Ding said this was the largest seized amount of ivory at Juba International Airport in 2016; they have never seized such a large quantity of ivory. He attributed the decline in the trend to their presence in most parts of the country.

Maj. Gen Ding said there was a challenge of reluctance from the investigators saying most cases ended on the way or the suspect being bailed out and sometimes the person does not appear again in court.  He said there were over 50 reported cases of wildlife trafficking and none of them has been tried.

“When we open up a case in the police it now depends on the seriousness of the investigators and this also requires a commitment whether the person is with wildlife conservation or not,” he said.

“We are optimistic that the situation in the country will improve and one day, our people will realize the importance of the wildlife,” Maj. Gen Ding added.

Mr. Paul Peter Awol, the Law Enforcement and Anti-Trafficking Coordinator at Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said the Ugandan defendant, Kyewalyanga had a lot of international connections and that might have been the reason why he dodged the security personnel at the Entebbe International Airport.

“What I heard was that after he was arrested in Juba, there had been a lot of communication and he had been promised not to worry as he would get out of the case,” he said, adding that this showed the person had international connectors.

However, Mr. Awol said his arrest at Juba International Airport was the achievement related to the technical assistance that the WCS had been providing to the Ministry of Wildlife, Conservation and Tourism.

“We have been providing a number of trainings on capacity building, intelligence, information gathering and investigation to the security officers working at the airport,” he said.

Earlier surveys and applied research conducted by Wildlife Conservation Society and the South Sudan Wildlife Service estimated an elephant population of some 2,300 in the country prior to the civil war, which began in December 2013, down from an estimated 79,000 in the 1970’s.

Elephants face continued and expanded threats. Giraffe are in very low numbers — down from some 13,000 in the early 1980’s to only hundreds remaining now and at risk of local extinction. Migratory tiang and other antelopes are vulnerable due to annual migration between Badingilo National Park and the Sudd.

Mr. Awol added that the introduction of sniffers dogs at the Juba International Airport had made a tremendous improvement in the crackdown against wildlife trafficking.

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