Wildlife conservation since independence | Screen

In his book, my trip to africa first published in 1908, Winston Churchill called Uganda the pearl of Africa.
After his visit to Uganda in 1907, he wrote in his book that “For its magnificence, variety of form and color, richness of brilliant life – bird, insect, reptile, animal – on a vast scale – Uganda is truly the pearl of Africa. .

Uganda is truly the pearl of Africa, boasting a great diversity of flora and fauna.
The country has a variety of wildlife ranging from large mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and others. They are found both inside and outside protected areas.
Coordinated wildlife management in the Uganda Protectorate began in 1923 with the establishment of the Elephant Control Department. The goal of this organization was to reduce the damage to agriculture by limiting the size and range of the elephant population.

In 1952, the colonial government gazetted Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls national parks. This was 10 years before the country gained independence from British colonial rule.
Several other wildlife conservation areas and forests have been declared over the years, with the country now boasting 10 national parks and 12 wildlife sanctuaries.
Wildlife reserves were established as far back as 1936, says veteran wildlife conservationist, honorary wildlife officer and board member of the East African Wildlife Society, Captain John Emily Oteka.

“Two national parks in 1952; Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls were published under colonial rule.
In 1962 Kidepo was post-colonial and in 1984 Lake Mburo National Park was the next publication and I was the first chief warden posted there that year,” says Captain Otekat.
“Mind you, we already had game reserves, they were established way back, I think in 1936 when they were established by the colonial governments,” he said.
According to him, conservation was easier in the early 60s because the human population was still very small, about seven million people, and therefore did not put any pressure on national parks and forest areas, which are home to a number of species.

Tourists in Queen Elizabeth National Park. PHOTO/FILE

Political challenges
During the 1960s, Uganda’s wildlife population was stable and increased until the 1970s and 1980s, when the country experienced political instability and insecurity.
Captain Otekat says all hell broke loose on January 25, 1971 when Idi Amin toppled the Milton Obote government.
“Now there was total lawlessness, soldiers driven out by Idi Amin’s regime and retreating north to poach in Murchison Falls National Park and soldiers pursued west by Idi Amin also poached and elephant numbers were greatly reduced,” says Captain Otekat.
He adds that poaching peaked when Amin was overthrown in 1979, noting that many elephants fled to neighboring Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) during that time.

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Ms Doreen Katusiime, says that there was serious poaching and illegal wildlife trade at the time, which destroyed a number of wildlife species and led to population decline and in some cases extinction.
“Some species such as Beysa Oryx, Lord Deby’s Eland, Northern White Rhinoceros and Eastern Black Rhinoceros were extinct, while others were endangered, such as gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants, hoofed cranes and pangolins, which were hunted for their scales. ” he says.
“We had about 30,000 elephants at the time of independence, down to just 2,000 in 1985,” says Mr Sam Mwanda, executive director of the Uganda Wildlife Foundation.
However, since the NRA/M came to power in 1986, great progress has been made.

Captain Otekat says that when the NRA/M took control of the country, poaching decreased greatly.
“This was because the soldiers did not have weapons because they were all drafted into the national army at that time,” says Captain Otekat.
Recent reports indicate continued recovery and growth of several species.
For example, the gorilla population fell from 400 in 2015 to an estimated 459 individuals by 2018, the elephant population from 30,000 in 1960 to 1,900 by 1995, but increased to 7,975 by 2020 .
Mr Mwanda says: “The number of gorillas went from almost 300 to now we have over 500 in the country, so our efforts have resulted in this improvement.”

In the 1960s, the number of buffalo was 60,000, and in 1995, it decreased to 18,000, but in 2020, it increased to at least 44,163 individuals.
The giraffe population was 2,500 in 1960, decreased to 250 in 1995, but increased to 1,968 in 2020.
From 70,000 in 1960, the population of Kob, Uganda, had declined to 30,000 by 1995, but had risen to 175,590 by 2020, surpassing its 1960 population status, Ms Katusiime says.
Other species experiencing population growth include chimpanzees, from an estimated 5,000 individuals in 2017 to 5,072 in 2020. The number of Bruchell’s zebras has increased from 10,000 in 1960 to 17,516 in 2020.

Achievements
It should also be noted that the country is able to repopulate the extinct rhinos.
Through a breeding program at Zziwa Rhino Sanctuary, the number reached 33 by 2020, and two more have since been added at the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Center (UWEC), better known as Entebbe zoo, bringing the total to 34.
The above-mentioned successes in restoring the populations of a number of species have been attributed, among other factors, to the improvement of security, control and law enforcement agencies, the deployment of sniffer dogs at the country’s entry and exit points, and the creation of intelligence and investigation units.

Others strengthen collaboration between UWA and other security agencies such as the police and the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF). Regional cooperation within the East African Union has also been strengthened.
Community participation, awareness and benefit sharing also played a major role in contributing to the increase in numbers.
“We share the income with the communities neighboring our protected areas. From 2005 to 2022, the Uganda Wildlife Authority has shared up to 45b with communities, so it has benefited us that the communities feel that these resources belong to them because they are the beneficiaries. So, they have a duty to protect wildlife,” says Ms. Katusiime.

Mr Mwanda says the Authority has to pay compensation to a number of people by making regulations to operationalize the compensation scheme under the Uganda Wildlife Act 2019.
“We have set up a compensation review committee, which is now shortlisting the first group of people to be compensated,” says Mr Mwanda.
He adds that the committee will start looking at the actual compensation claims in the next one to two months and at least Shs1 billion has been set aside for this purpose.
Despite the successes, the country’s conservation efforts have not been without problems.
Major problems include poaching, illegal trade and trafficking of wildlife and its products, human-wildlife conflict and climate change.

Mr Mwanda says: “We still have challenges with human-wildlife conflict; “With the increase in human population, they came closer to the protected areas, the animals did not understand that there should be a border, so they continued to move into the gardens and destroyed crops and sometimes killed people, this remains a problem.”
He adds: “Some people have continued to poach and try to take the bucks they think are there, and that remains a problem that we’re trying to address directly to see that we reduce illegal wildlife trade, by creating awareness and directly through law enforcement.” “.
Climate change has affected habitats and displaced a number of species such as elephants, Ugandan kobes, buffaloes, and also intensified natural disasters such as floods and landslides, which lead to habitat destruction, displacement and loss of wildlife species.

Captain Otekat says political interference is another challenge he faces, claiming that during campaigns, there is a lot of pressure on conservation areas, with a number of candidates making promises and calls for the degassing of protected areas.
Outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola and Covid-19 are also some of the major challenges that have arisen as they have a negative impact on generating revenue for reinvestment in tourism and conservation.
Other obstacles are revenge killings by trapping and poisoning wild animals, especially big cats such as lions, leopards and cheetahs.
Experts recommend that the government enforce all laws related to the protection of natural resources and ensure that all illegal trade in wildlife and their products is stopped.

Mr. Sam Mwanda, Executive Director, Uganda Wildlife Authority

Captain Otekat says the Judiciary should give deterrent punishments to people who break the law and the government should ensure that UWA is given enough funds to motivate its staff and rangers who are giving their lives to protect the country’s wildlife.
“Animals in the wild can do without humans but humans cannot do without wildlife and that is why we must all join hands to protect wildlife,” says Captain Otekat.
For its part, UWA says it is looking at improving relations with various stakeholders, including communities neighboring protected areas, continuing staff training and engaging communities in wildlife conservation facilities.

“Conservation is about more than just wildlife, we need to protect their habitats, we need to protect wetlands, forests whether they are managed by UWA or other agencies,” Mr Mwanda said.
Ms Katusiime says there are several strategies that can be implemented to overcome the above challenges.
These include the use of modern technologies such as drones to mitigate human-wildlife conflict, electric fences and the establishment of rapid response units in each reserve area, as well as enhanced monitoring, enforcement and patrolling services to prevent illegal activities.

Some national parks
Murchison Falls National Park

The 5,000 sq km park is Uganda’s largest protected area. Murchison Falls National Park is located at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley, where the vast Mt Bunyoro rolls into a vast palm-dotted savannah. First gazetted as a reserve in 1926, it is Uganda’s oldest reserve, home to 76 species of mammals and 451 birds.

Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park, located in western Uganda, was named after Queen Elizabeth II of England and was established in 1954. Many elephants, hippos, lions, leopards and chimpanzees live in the park, which is famous for its wildlife. 500 species of birds live in the park.

Kidepo Valley National Park
Kidepo Valley National Park is Uganda’s most isolated national park. Kidepo Valley is located in rugged savanna between Uganda’s borders with Sudan and Kenya. More than 77 species of mammals and more than 475 species of birds live in the park. If you’re up for some game viewing, this park is ideal.

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