On behalf of the Government of Uganda and my Ministry, I extend my sincere warm welcome to you all who have turned up for this prestigious regional elephant conservation awareness campaign code-named “WALK FOR ELEPHANTS”. Allow me to officially welcome the diplomatic representatives, the “WALK FOR ELEPHANTS” team which has been traversing East Africa since the 4th of June, and our other conservation partners to this important event aimed at raising awareness about the plight of our endangered African elephant.
In a special way, I wish to welcome the Director of the Elephant Neighbors Centre, Mr. Jim Justus Nyamu, and your team, for championing the cause to save the African elephant through this unprecedented walk covering the vast East African countries. I am particularly happy that the message has been targeted to reach the audience where the sources of threats to the elephant are expected to be.
As many of you may already be aware, elephants are vital to the web of life in Africa as a keystone species, helping to balance the ecosystem for all the other species to benefit - by opening up forest habitats to create gaps that facilitate growth of forage for antelopes and other mammals, creation of walk ways and firebreaks, and maintaining of the grassland ecosystems for grazers, creation of water pools and access routes to water sources for other wildlife, dispersal of seeds and hence helping ecosystems to gain new growth, and fertilizing the landscapes along their pathways for the growth of flora and certain fauna species.
The elephant is also one of the most preferred species that contributes greatly to tourism revenues, and hence community livelihood. In 2004, elephant game-viewing tourism in Botswana was estimated to be contributing up to US$39 million to GDP. A research done in 1993 estimated the net financial returns from high-quality elephant ecotourism in selected savanna localities at about US$5/ha.
The most unfortunate thing is that mankind is not recognizing the role the African elephant is playing in our lives. Our flagship species in the African conservation and tourism is currently faced by serious threats more than ever before. It’s unfortunate that man is the key source of threats to elephant conservation and loss of their habitat through poaching for ivory and encroachment. Trade in illegal ivory has increased over the last five years and poaching has undermined decades of conservation, drained range states of their natural heritage, threaten the safety of rural communities economic well-being and heavily affects revenue from wildlife tourism.
Continent-wide survey reveals massive decline in African savannah elephants from 1.3 million in 1979 to only about 352,000 individuals. Africa lost 30% (about 144,000 individuals) of Its Elephants between 2007 and 2014, and it is estimated that poachers are killing off 8 percent of savanna elephants a year. Meanwhile, another study found that the second pachyderm species, African forest elephants, which lost 62% of their population between 2002 and 2011, will require at least a century to recover because they breed significantly slower than thought. Scientists estimate that fewer than 100,000 forest elephants now remain.
At this rate of disappearance of the African elephant, our Governments cannot just sit and watch to see this iconic species to extinction. We need serious interventions to stop this rate of disappearance of the elephant. I am aware that the African Elephant Range States have come up with an African Elephant Action Plan (AEAP) that has a number of strategies which require great efforts if we have to achieve our desired target in saving the African Elephant. This “WALK FOR ELEPHANTS” is therefore a timely intervention and we need more of such campaigns and other actions to have our elephants saved from the ruthlessness of elephant poachers.
Elephants in Uganda remain listed under Appendix I of CITES and the country is committed to its protection. I am reliably informed and glad that the elephant population in Uganda has been on the increase since the late 1990s despite the general population decrease on the African continent. The recovery in elephant numbers from less than 1,000 in 1980 to over 5,000 is not only attributed to the efforts of Uganda Wildlife Authority alone but through concerted efforts of all the partners in conservation. We cannot take this increase for granted as it comes at a huge cost in terms of protection and ensuring the security of the elephant population. We need to consolidate all efforts towards maintaining this increasing trend and ensure that the status quo is kept. This can only be achieved if our elephant conservation management strategies/plans are implemented.
Uganda actively participated in the development of the African Elephant Action Plan (AEAP) and has domesticated it by formulating a National Action Plan. Currently, a number of interventions have been put in place including the ongoing review of the Wildlife Act to provide for punitive actions against ivory traffickers, we have deployments at the main customs exit (Airport) where about 5 tons of ivory have been confiscated and a number of people prosecuted, we have done a number of sensitizations with partner institutions including the Customs staff, Judiciary, prosecution, police, immigrations, Civil Aviation Authority and the Local people. We have also recently embarked on serious training of the Intelligence and law enforcement staff and we hope that these actions will soon add value to the survival of the elephant population in Uganda. I therefore take this opportunity to thank all those partners who have contributed in one way or the other in saving the Ugandan population through financial and policy support. In particular, I thank AWF, IFAW, WCS, the British Council who have been close to us in raising awareness and providing support to saving the elephant population in the region.
Likewise, from the manifestation of this walk, I am already convinced that Kenya and Tanzania will do us proud as part of the East African society in protecting our elephant population and fighting illegal trafficking of ivory. I also attended a conservation conversation in Kigali recently and my belief and conviction in the Rwandan Government on conservation was further strengthened by what I heard and saw. I therefore appeal to all of us who are here and all citizens of East Africa (through the media houses) to urgently join us conservationists and the conservation partners to save the elephant through any means that they may afford. The sharing of information on poaching shall be appreciated.
We are grateful to the East African Presidents (and in particular my own President of Uganda H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni) who led the African leaders at the launch of the Clinton initiative to tackle wildlife trafficking-particularly ivory. Our Presidents have set a roadmap for us to walk and it’s our responsibility therefore to ensure that their dreams are brought to reality and their efforts are not put to waste. We are also grateful to the African Elephant Fund managed by UNEP and other NGOs for providing some financial support towards strengthening the capacity of law enforcement against elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade. Such initiatives from our development partners are key to the survival of the African elephants. We are optimistic that with the Action Plan in place, more partners will come on board to address challenges affecting elephant conservation in the EAC region in particular, and the African range states at large.
I would like once again on behalf of government to appreciate the initiative by Mr. Jim Justus Nyamu in promoting awareness about the plight of elephants and other wildlife, through a laborious exercise of trekking through the three countries, during which he has interacted with grass root communities to not only sensitize them but also capturing their opinions and perceptions which will be incorporated in the generation of policies that are geared towards general wildlife conservation.
I have learnt that while in Uganda, Mr. Nyamu and his courageous team have walked from Mutukula border post through Lake Mburo, Queen Elizabeth and Kibale conservation areas as well as various urban centres along the Mbarara-Kasese-Fort Portal-Mubende, and now in Kampala as they communicate and spread the gospel of conservation. I am informed that by the end of his walk in early October, the team will have covered a total distance of 3,200km in 125 days. This gesture ought to be emulated by all conservation loving East Africans
I hope that this gesture will be emulated and supported by all conservation loving Africans and conservation partners. The government of Uganda will continue to pro actively engage in bilateral and multilateral collaborations to promote cross border conservation agreements to curb poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking.
Once again, I congratulate the chief walker and your team upon the progress of the project so far accomplished and I am optimistic, you will successfully pull it off with very tangible results.
I now take this singular honor to close today’s events and wish the “WALK FOR ELEPHANTS team journey mercies and success in the accomplishment of this prestigious Conservation campaign.
Professor Ephraim Kamuntu
MINISTR OF TOURISM,WILDLFE AND ANTIQUITIES