A Vietnamese national was yesterday evening arrested at Entebbe airport after Uganda Wildlife Authority dogs sniffed out 23.38kgs of rhino horn in his possession.
Thai Xuan Tuan, 22, came from Kenya by road and was scheduled to fly to Hanoi through Doha with Qatar Airways.
According to a statement from UWA, the dogs sniffed out the rhinos' horn in Tuan’s bag at the baggage conveyor and followed it to departure where it was checked in, tagged in his names.
The dog handlers on duty confirmed the suspected contraband and called in airport joint security who picked up Tuan from the waiting lobby, opened the bag and found a pack in which 12 rhino's horns that weighed up to 23.38Kgs concealed. Each rhino horn can average 1-3 kg.
He is being detained at Aviation Police, Entebbe where he will record statement before being aligned in court.
With only about 25 radiotherapy machines for a population of over 87 million, and with cancer cases on the rise in Vietnam, rhino horn is in high demand and a kilogram can fetch up to $100,000. It is believed by the nationals, that rhino horn powder can cure cancer and hangovers.
“African Wildlife Foundation congratulates UWA Canine Unit for this big seizure. AWF is happy that our partnership with UWA is combating wildlife trafficking is yielding incredible results.
We call upon the law enforcement to ensure that this suspect is dully tried in courts of courts of law and if found culpable, be handed a stricter sentence to send a clear message to other traffickers who would want to use Uganda as a conduit,” said Abiaz Rwamiri, a communications officer at African Wildlife Foundation.
According to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), this is the biggest seizure so far by the dogs since their seven-month operation that started in January.
So far, 64 suspects have been arrested with different contrabands including ivory, pangolin scales, ostrich egg shells, warthog and hippo teeth. At least 12 suspects were convicted and paid fines totaling Shs 39.8m, seven cases are still pending in court while 33 suspects have been cautioned and released by police.
In the last five years, over six tonnes of ivory have been seized at Entebbe International Airport and over 12 tonnes of ivory has been seized in other airports in Asia believed to have passed through Entebbe.
Wildlife trafficking is one of the leading transnational crimes in the world and is now a multibillion dollar business. It has been categorized by UN among serious crimes alongside drug trafficking, human trafficking and arms trafficking. Concerted efforts are therefore required to curb the wildlife trafficking across the globe.
Uganda and neighbours – Kenya and Tanzania – were named in 2013 along with five other countries as playing a primary role in illegal wildlife trade, whether as source, transit or demand countries for illegal wildlife products. Uganda serves as a major transit hub in the wildlife supply chain, with ivory and other wildlife products seized by authorities moving toward ports in Kenya and Tanzania.
In order to clear Uganda’s image that has been tainted as a conduit for illicit wildlife trade, UWA, with support from African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), established the first ever Detector (Sniffer) Dog Program for Uganda famously referred to as UWA Canine Unit.
The creation of the canine unit with trained dogs in detection of ivory and other wildlife contraband was based on the fact that dogs are not corruptible and experience has shown that well-trained dogs can detect anything no matter the method of concealment.
This had been demonstrated in drug trafficking and explosives where dogs have done a tremendous job.
Dogs had also been successfully used in Kenya to combat ivory trafficking through Jomo Kenyatta International airport and Mombasa sea port, the reason traffickers had resorted to using Entebbe to ship large quantities illegal items.
Over the last five years, over six tonnes of ivory have been seized at Entebbe airport and over 12 tonnes of ivory have been seized in other airports in Asia believed to have passed through Entebbe.
On January 23, 2017, President Yoweri Museveni wrote a letter to Entebbe airport authorities granting UWA dogs and their handlers unlimited and uninterrupted operation at the airport including the VIP section.
The president’s letter that was addressed to the minister of transport ordered dismissal of anyone found obstructing the dog handlers from accessing some areas of the airport.
The national legislation on wildlife is being revised to provide deterrent punishments.