Uganda’s wildlife authority has suspended five top officials after a tonne of seized ivory worth over one million dollars vanished from government strongrooms, its chief said on Tuesday.
Interpol has been called in to aid in investigating the incident, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) chief Raymond Engena said, following calls from the president to catch the culprits.
“We have suspended five officials to allow investigations into how the ivory went missing,” Engena said.
They include the government-run UWA’s chief ranger, those who had access to the strongroom, as well as intelligence officers in the agency.
“We are cooperating with the police to establish the people behind this crime, and we have also involved Interpol in the investigations,” Engena said. “The people behind this will be found and dealt with decisively.”
The UWA said a routine check had found that 1,335 kilogrammes of ivory had vanished from supposedly secure stockpiles, which officials estimated to be valued at some 1.1 million dollars (880,000 euros).
Staff are feared to have been working with traffickers to steal and sell the confiscated tusks. Some corrupt officials are believed to have taken the ivory claiming to use it to ensnare potential traffickers but later sold it themselves.
Poaching has risen sharply across Africa in recent years, fuelled by rising demand in Asia for ivory and rhino horn, coveted as traditional medicine and as a status symbol. Uganda is a key transit country for the illegal trade.
More than 35,000 elephants are killed across Africa every year for their tusks.