Two Vietnamese nationals suspected to be smugglers have been arrested after authorities intercepted three containers loaded with wildlife contraband including elephant tusks and pangolin scales.
The two suspects have been identified as Dhan Yan Chiew and Nguyen Son Dong.
The tusks and scales were concealed in logs of timber on a truck that was bound for Uganda from South Sudan.
According to Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), the contraband was detected by the mobile Non-Intrusive Inspection scanner which confirmed “something unusual tucked away in a trio of 20 ft containers which crossed from South Sudan into Uganda carrying logs of timber”.
The timber was the declared item in transit but the scanner seemed to disagree.
URA’s Commissioner for Customs, Dicksons Kateshumbwa told reporters on Thursday that the interception was informed by intel about suspicious cargo.
“Basing on intel gathered about suspicious cargo in the containers, the customs team covertly tailed the 3 vehicles as they snaked their way across Uganda,” URA said in a statement.
The team then moved in on the cars at an ICD to verify the suspicions.
Kateshumbwa said that Customs officers found hundreds of ivory pieces and thousands of pangolin scales disguised as timber. The illegal items were then seized and the suspects arrested.
The smugglers poured molten wax into hollow plunks of wood and dipped hundreds of ivory and pangolin scales into the wax.
They then covered the hollow plunks with well shaped pieces of wood (lids) and used saw dust to cover lines where lids joined the hollow plunks.
Atleast 750 pieces of ivory and thousands of pangolin scales had been verified by press time. For 750 pieces of ivory to be amassed, 325 elephants have to lose their lives.
Ivory and pangolin scales are listed among prohibited trade items.
“The agencies concerned namely URA, Uganda Wildlife Authority, Police are collaborating with all other agencies involved to ensure that we get to the bottom of this racket and to ensure that the perpetrators face the full arm of the law in the name of protecting African Wildlife,” URA said in it’s statement.
Customs authorities have warned those involved in smuggling that the Ugandan borders are increasingly becoming impenetrable with the use of non-intrusive inspection technology.
Elephants are one of the most poached mammals the world over for their tusks but Pangolins (Olugave) are covetted even more for their scales.