The two men convicted of poisoning lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park have asked court for forgiveness, saying the deal was so tempting to refuse.
Vincent Tumuhiirwe and Robert Ariyo were last week convicted by the Standards, Utilities and Wildlife Court sitting at Buganda Road of killing six lions after entering the national park in Southeastern Uganda illegally last year.
The two used Furadan, a very dangerous chemical pesticide and pollutant applied to crops to protect them from insects on the lions inside the national park as they sought to get lion fat oil from the animals.
On Tuesday, the duo came to court for mitigation before they could be read the sentences by the court which earlier convicted them.
Through their lawyer, Andrew Mugume, the duo aged 49 and 40 years respectively told court that having been battered by the deadly Covid pandemic, when a deal was presented to them to kill the lions, they never thought twice and took it.
“By May last year, they were affected by Covid and the offer was too tempting to them. It is our opinion that they are not punished for having been asked to commit the crime in those hard economic times,” the duo’s lawyer Mugume told court.
According to the convicts’ lawyer, it is absurd the even after informing police the exact person who presented them the deal to kill the lions, he was never charged or presented to court.
Nevertheless, the two gentlemen asked court not to listen to the state prosecutor, Joan Keko’s plea of giving a life sentence to them for killing the animals that rake in over shs795 million from tourism to the country every year.
According to their lawyer, the time they have spent in prison has taught them enough lessons for them to reform and be good persons in society.
“The convicts should just like the biblical Barnabas be given a second chance. They will become useful citizens be a voice for conservation in their area. They are remorseful and regret their actions. They have taken a lot of rehabilitation course during the past one year in prison and it is only fair they are made conservation voices other than putting them away from community,” Mugume said.
The lawyer told court that having been first offenders without any bad record for the many years they have lived near Queen Elizabeth National Park, fairness demands that they are given a second chance, other than being jailed.
Lawyer Mugume told court that both of them are parents with more than 10 children altogether and that since their arrest, many of them dropped out of school since the two convicts were the sole bread winners.
Chief magistrate Gladys Kamasanyu set Thursday, September, 1 as the date for sentencing the two convicts.
The two men were arrested with several others for killing six lions through poisoning in Queen Elizabeth National Park last year.
On arrest, the group admitted to killing the animals and took Uganda Wildlife Authority officials and police officers to a location where three heads of lions were found hidden in a tree and the fourth one was buried with 15 legs under the same tree.
The suspects said they had dropped one leg in the park and during the search, three bottles containing Furadan and a two litre jerrican of lion fat oil were recovered from a banana plantation nearby and two spears, a panga and a hunting net were found hidden in a garden at Tumuhiire’s home.
According to prosecution, the duo killed six climbing lions and 10 white vultures through poisoning.
The group faced charges of entering a wildlife protected area without permission contrary to section 30(1) and 70(a) of the Wildlife Act 2019.
They were also accused of hunting wild animals in a wildlife conservation area without permission ,killing protected wildlife species in a wildlife conservation area without permission and unlawful possession of protected wildlife species , contrary to sections 29(a) ,70(a), 36(1) and 71(1) of the Uganda Wildlife Act 2019.
They were convicted of all the charges after killing the tree climbing lions, a rare species of animals and the animals in Ishasha bring in a number of tourists specifically to marvel at them and consequently foreign revenue to the country.
Africa has two popular lion climbing populations at Manyara in Tanzania and Ishasha in Queen Elizabeth in Uganda.
Section 30(1) of the Wildlife Act 2019 says that a person who, except in accordance with this Act, attempts to enter into, enters into, resides in, or attempts to reside in a wildlife protected area without permission by the Authority, commits an offence.
According to the law, any person convicted is liable to maximum fine of Shs20 billion or life imprisonment, or both for an offence related to a wildlife species classified as extinct in the wild or critically endangered.
The species classified as extinct in the wild include the roan antelope, lion, hunting dog, spotted and stripped hyena, greater and lesser kudu, Ssese Island Sitatunga, Cheetah, African elephant, Delany’s mouse, and endangered species such as impala, Rwenzori duiker, Rothschild’s giraffe, mountain gorilla and the common chimpanzee.
The law also emphasizes that person who without a permit takes, hunts, molests or reduces into possession protected specimen or is found with, sells, buys, transfers or accepts transfer of protected specimen, commits an offence and shall on conviction, be liable to a maximum fine of Shs200 million or to a jail term or both.
The law also stipulates that a first-time offender should be fined to a tune Shs7 million or to a term of imprisonment, not exceeding 10 years, or both.