By Watchdog reporter
A boda boda cyclist in Kasese district, Seka Hussein was on Wednesday sentenced to 25 months an equivalent of two years in prison after he was found guilty of being in possession of illegal hippopotamus teeth weighing 15 kilogrammes.
The Grade One Magistrate His Worship Michael Bbosa in his judgment at Ndekye court sentenced Seka Hussein, 38, to a custodial sentence without any option of a fine. He will serve his jail term of 25 months in Rubirizi Prisons.
The wildlife convict was arrested in a joint operation mounted by officials from Natural Resource Conservation (NRCN), Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA) and police on October 21, at Nyakasharu trading Centre in Rubirizi district while in possession of 32 pieces of hippo teeth.
He was in the following day of October charged at Rubirizi Police Station of being engaged in illegal wildlife trade as he was found in possession of protected animal species contrary to Section 75 (b) of the Uganda Wildlife Act.
Hussein, who stood in the dock without a lawyer pleaded guilty after a legal officer working with Natural Resource Conservation Network, Ms Winnie Namayenje presented two witnesses who were ready to pin him.
During the hearing, the prosecution led by NRCN’s Ms Namayenje called two witnesses who included; Mr Alex Adupa and a police officer Mr Ibrahim Kyabuhire attached to Rubirizi Police station who lodged a complaint against Mr Hussein.
Mr Kyabuhire in his statement said, “On October 21, while on duty at Nyakasharu trading centre, I saw Mr Seka Hussein coming while riding a motor cycle carrying a sack that contained 32 pieces of hippopotamus teeth.”
The magistrate said the chain of events surrounding the wildlife trafficking of the hippo teeth when considered as a whole pointed to Mr Seka Hussein as the owner of the animal cargo that was recovered by police in Nyakasharu trading centre while in his possession.
“It was good that he later considered pleading guilty but that alone does not exonerate him from a sentence,” the Magistrate said, adding that, “I am sentencing you to 25 months in prison.
In sentencing Mr Hussein, the Grade One magistrate noted that poaching hippopotamus had become a menace in Rubirizi district, an act that is highly alarming to the wildlife conservation not only in Rubirizi but also it is a nation’s concern that everybody must pick interest to ensure that we all conserve wildlife.
The magistrate said the rate at which wildlife are being killed in Uganda is worrying and that if something is not done the future generations will have no wildlife such as elephants, pangolins, hippopotamus rhinoceros, among others to look at.
The Chief Executive Officer with Natural Resource Conservation Network Mr Vincent Opyene says, “In Uganda, all we have is human resource and animals; many other currency earners are no longer a reliable source of income and contributor to the economy; but tourism sector where these wildlife belong is the second currency earner after agriculture, in that, we take pride in our hippopotamus that we have alongside other wildlife endangered species that we have tagged them as the famous.”
The most endangered wildlife species in Uganda include elephants, pangolins, rhinoceros, cheetahs, leopards, parrots, among others.
The magistrate said in order to bring to an end the mass massacre of wildlife, the courts must keep away those who encourage the heinous crimes by encouraging the trade and that the offence committed by Hussein is serious.
A retired wildlife officer, Mr Richard Karugaba when contacted for his comment expressed happiness in the ruling, “It is rare for courts to give a custodial sentence to convicts of offences where there is an option of fine, this custodial sentence, is a unique one and I pray for other courts to emulate the same.”
Mr Opyene noted that the judgment comes barely a few months after the 17th Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, that took place in September.
In this CITES, Uganda and 28 other African nations made a strong case at the conference for protection of the African wildlife.
A forensic report concerning the exhibit of wildlife body parts that was penned by Dr Ludwig Siefert on the request of Uganda Wildlife Authority to assist police in Rubirizi during the court proceedings confirmed that, “All teeth are genuine hippo-teeth – incisors and canines given their sizes, shapes, surface, root structures, coloration, angular tusk interstitial zone on cross-section.”
The report indicated that, the hippo teeth consisted of 16 incisors and 16 canines that weighed a total net of 15kg.
Dr Ludwig is a Principal Researcher who has worked in Uganda’s protected areas and Queen Elizabeth Conservation area in particular since 1972 and for more than 25 years as a Makerere University lecturer in the veterinary school.
He specialized in teaching among other subjects, as specialized wildlife veterinary, wildlife forensics at postgraduate level. In his honestly held, independent, objective and unbiased opinion based on the material facts presented recommended that, “Prevention of such crimes should remain the ultimate goal; hence include also critical evaluation of all stakeholders’ performance who should act and have the matter addressed.”
Dr Ludwig says, ideally convicts, usually having an intimate knowledge of illegally harvested species, should become the pioneers of such innovations in order to genuinely reform them not only to earn a decent income for themselves and their families but become as trainers of others as a crime prevention strategy.
The report has that, residents in Banyaruguru claim that women have to eat hippo meat to remain fertile as part of their culture.