The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has licensed a wildlife dealer to export 300 Vervet monkeys to Russia. Yekoyada Nuwagaba, the proprietor of Navina Export, secured the licence recently. The company has been exporting chameleons and snakes to Europe.
"We have approved the export, which is expected to take place within three months. UWA considered his proposal to save communities where vervet monkeys have become a menace and at the same time sell them and benefit in economic terms," said Sam Mwandha, the UWA acting executive director.
UWA declared vervet monkeys and olive baboons as vermin because of their large populations and tendency to destroy crops. "We have been getting persistent complaints about vermin," said Mwandha. "If there is someone who can get the vermin and make economic use of it, they are welcome."
Nuwagaba said UWA inspected and approved his monkey traps. He, however, declined to provide details on the export deal.
A vervet monkey can fetch up to $6,000 in Europe, according to a wildlife expert.
The areas where the company is authorised to trap monkeys include Kampala City, where residents of Muyenga, Bugolobi, Mulago and Ntinda have complained to UWA.
In the last two weeks, Navina has trapped 30 monkeys in Muyenga, one of the posh suburbs of Kampala.
The monkey is lured into an open cage with food like bananas. On entering to get the bait, it steps on a mechanism that closes the entrance.
In his proposal, Nuwagaba said he would set up a holding ground with a veterinary doctor to ensure that the primates are in good health.
The primates are on high demand for bio-medical research, such drug and vaccine trials. But Mwandha said the Ugandan monkeys were being taken to animal sanctuaries as exhibits.
The licence to export the monkeys has attracted hostile reactions from environmentalists, who insist that wildlife trade has many irregularities.
"We know that wildlife traffickers often export endangered species such as chimps," said Achilles Byaruhanga, the executive director of Nature Uganda.
"The exportation of monkeys could provide a cover-up for the clandestine export of chimps."
He said it was difficult for some people to tell the difference between a chimpanzee and a monkey, making it difficult to ensure that only monkeys are exported.
Sources say many of the promoters of such deals are wildlife traffickers who work with people that have political clout to secure permits for export.
The preferred species for trade are apes like chimpanzees that are closely related to humans and can sell for as much as $80,000 (about sh130m) each.