Over a tonne of elephant ivory seized from poachers in Uganda and worth over a million dollars has been stolen from government strongrooms, reports said.
The country’s wildlife authority [UWA] said on Tuesday that it has suspended five top officials over the stolen ivory, after President Yoweri Museveni ordered investigations into the apparent crime.
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“We have started the initial investigation,” said Ali Munira from the country’s top anti-corruption body, the Inspectorate General of Government, according to the newspaper.
Those suspended include the government-run UWA’s chief ranger, those who had access to the vaults, as well as intelligence officers in the agency.
The government’s UWA has admitted that 1,335 kilogrammes of ivory is missing from supposedly secure stockpiles, which officials estimated to be valued at some $1.1m.
“Our intelligence unit staff, while on routine checkup, discovered some irregularities in the management of the store where confiscated ivory is kept,” UWA said in a statement.
Investigations have begun “verifying the physical stocks against the records,” it added.
Some corrupt officials are believed to have taken the ivory claiming to use it to ensnare potential traffickers, but then later selling it themselves.
The World Wildlife Fund has identified Uganda as a key transit country for the illegal trade.
UWA chief Raymond Engena said the agency “remains committed to the fight against illegal wildlife trade and poaching,” and vowed to “punish and prosecute any culprits engaged in illegal trade.”
But campaigners said the lost ivory was a deeply worrying sign.
“The question is, if UWA management is involved, then how can we be sure that wildlife in Uganda is in safe hands?” Achilles Byaruhanga, head of the conservation group Nature Uganda, told AFP.
More than 35,000 elephants are killed across Africa every year for their tusks.