The Kanungu magistrate’s court has come into the cross hairs of conservationists from Uganda and further abroad, when in a misguided act of sentencing it fined three professed gorilla killers 50.000 Uganda Shillings each, which is less than US Dollars 20, yes TWENTY.
Gorilla tracking is one of the most important elements in Uganda’s tourism industry and attracts high end tourists from around the world who travel to the two Ugandan gorilla parks of Mgahinga and Bwindi, where a single tracking permit costs 500 US Dollars, besides transport, accommodation and meals while on safari. The conservation fraternity was shocked a few weeks ago when news broke that three men were arrested red-handed by park rangers after killing a silverback gorilla. Within days the culprits had appeared in court where they were charged and when the case came up for hearing, the media were well represented yesterday. However, the decision by the magistrate to only fine the criminals instead of jailing them, and a measly 50.000 Shillings each, is sending the wrong message out to the poachers. While the magistrate has been called incompetent, inept and even ‘an accomplice to poaching’, it is often outdated laws which prevent stiffer sentences as also seen in Kenya and Tanzania. The conservation fraternity in East Africa has been demanding minimum sentences of at least 10 years in prison, where possible with hard labor, for commercial poaching and fines aimed to bankrupt the poachers as well as the middlemen financing their bloody handiwork, but until now not one of the parliaments has effectively brought appropriate amendments to existing laws, which would and could act as a deterrent.
Leading conservationists have in messages to this correspondent overnight lamented the ‘poor judgment’ by the magistrate and called for a judicial review of the case by higher courts, saying ‘this decision is paramount to encouraging poaching in Uganda. When someone kills one of our prized mountain gorillas, we need provisions in law similar to committing manslaughter. Fining poachers simply no longer is in the public interest and the magistrate erred in giving such a ridiculously light sentence. The magistrate in fact should resign as the verdict is a disgrace on the entire judiciary and has outraged everyone to do with conservation. A tourist pays 500 US Dollars to see gorillas and the poachers were fined a combined 55 US Dollars equivalent for their despicable crime.’