The visit to our national parks in November, by eminent citizens including Uganda's Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi (Ishasha Sector), minister for youth Ronald Kibuule (Queen Elizabeth) and the king of Bunyoro His Royal Highness Dr. Solomon Gafabusa Iguru 1 among others, was not only a gesture of growing interest from domestic tourists but also a vote of confidence in our conservation strategies.
The emergence of Tourism promotion groups like Kinkiizi Tourism Club, the Kigezi Tourism Cluster, Busoga Tourism Initiative etcetera is another testimony of how ready the communities are, to tap into the sprawling growing tourism sector.
The hybrid eclipse was a serious boost to tourism attracting thousands of guests to enjoy the products and services in the national parks enroute to Packwach in Nebbi district where the President was the chief viewer.
Murchison Falls National Park stands to benefit from two new trails if the planned Bunyoro trail comes into force while the great- great sons of the 19th century Victorian explorer Sir Samuel Baker plan to plant markers along their ancestor's trail up to atop Murchison Falls, to be known as the Baker's Trail.
Our new specialized game viewing vehicles are up and running in Kidepo and Murchison Falls National Parks and can be hired for either night or game drive or both.
Have an eventful month of December as we together conserve for Generations.
Key states along the illegal ivory value chain have committed to urgent measures to halt
the illegal trade and secure elephant populations across Africa. The agreement was
reached at the African Elephant Summit convened by the government of Botswana and
IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
The Summit is the first-ever meeting focusing on the dynamics of the entire ivory value
chain. The measures were agreed on by key African Elephant range states including
Gabon, Kenya, Uganda,
Niger and Zambia, ivory transit states Viet Nam, Philippines and
Malaysia and ivory destination states, including China and Thailand.
"Our window of opportunity to tackle the growing illegal ivory trade is closing and if we do
not stem the tide, future generations will condemn our unwillingness to act," says H.E.
Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama, President of the Republic of Botswana.
"Now is the time for Africa and Asia to join forces to protect this universally valued and
much needed species."
One of the 14 measures the delegates committed to involves classifying wildlife trafficking
as a "serious crime". This will unlock international law enforcement cooperation provided
under the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, including
mutual legal assistance, asset seizure and forfeiture, extradition and other tools to hold
criminals accountable for wildlife crime.
Other measures agreed include engaging communities living with elephants in their
conservation, strengthening national laws to secure maximum wildlife crime sentences,
mobilizing financial and technical resources to combat wildlife crime and reducing demand
for illegal ivory.
"We are very pleased with the result of the Summit, especially as it involves some of the
most important countries along the illegal ivory value chain," says IUCN Director General
Julia Marton-Lefèvre. "We hope that these outcomes will go beyond the Summit's focus on
African Elephants and boost broader efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade in other species
which have been threatened by it, such as rhinos and pangolins."
2011 saw the highest levels of poaching and illegal ivory trade in at least 16 years and
2012 shows no signs of abating. According to preliminary data, even higher levels of illicit
trade may be reached in 2013. Eighteen large scale seizures involving over 40 tonnes
have been recorded so far this year, which represents the greatest quantity of ivory seized
over the last 25 years. Poverty and corruption, as well as increasing demand from Asia are
the principle drivers of poaching and the illegal ivory trade.
The African Elephant (Loxodonta africana), the world's largest terrestrial mammal, is
currently listed as Vulnerable on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, with a
population estimate of around 500,000 animals.
The African Elephant Summit was organized with the financial support of the UK
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the German Government, the US
Agency for International Development, the African Development Bank and the World Bank.
In an effort to involve communities in solving human-wildlife conflict (HWC) around Murchison Falls Protected Area (MFPA), the USAID/Uganda Tourism for Biodiversity Program, implemented by African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), has invested US$11,000 in partnership with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to develop a Community Wildlife Scouts program, including providing equipment worth over $2,800. The equipment, which includes garden gloves, buckets, nose-masks, vuvuzella, bells, whistles, hoes, pick axes, spades, gumboots, raincoats, torches, and water bottles, was handed over to 122 wildlife scouts, most of whom are youth, who underwent a two day training in problem animal management with an emphasis on elephants. The handover ceremony took place in Ayago – Koch Goma Sub-county, at the boundary of Murchison Falls National Park and was presided over by Mr. Kaddu Sebunya, Director AWF Uganda Program, and Mr. Tom Okello, Conservation Area Manager of Murchison Falls National Park.
While addressing the scouts, Mr. Okello thanked community members for their role in wildlife conservation and singled out George Okeny, the scouts' leader, who gave UWA a portion of his land in 2008 to construct a ranger post to address wildlife raids, which were frequent in Ayago. He also applauded AWF's partnership, especially in training and equipping the scouts. Mr. Sebunya emphasized that AWF's support to the community was due to their commendable conservation work with UWA. He said that AWF and UWA are modeling such efforts to be replicated all over the country. The scouts expressed their appreciation for the support and stressed the need to address transport challenges and start income generating projects for the group. The group has already dug a 32-kilometer long elephant trench to prevent elephant raids.
The Community Wildlife Scouts (CWS) program was started by UWA as part of their strategy to expand various human wildlife conflict mitigations. Community representatives and volunteer youths/scouts were mobilized to chase away invading elephants from community gardens through simple, inexpensive methods including increased vigilance, beating tins and drums, blowing whistles and vuvuzela, application of pepper, setting fires, and applying other traditional methods in an organized manner. These methods have helped in controlling crop raids in the areas where they are implemented.
The community carries scars of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) conflict, which were still evident in Ayago Sub-county after peace returned to the area. When the community returned to their homes after the conflict ended, they found that the warlords had extensively poached wildlife in the park. For example, in the Ayago River, only two hippos remained; but with community's protection, the population has grown to over 23 hippos. The scouts have also helped UWA to reduce the need for ranger presence and patrol. In 2008, UWA stationed 14 rangers in the area; but with less acute human wildlife conflict, this has been reduced to three rangers, which saves the UWA approximately 15 million Ugandan shillings annually on operational costs, food rations, transport, patrol and supervision.
Crop raiding by elephants is currently the major cause of human-wildlife conflict due to increasing human population and the growing numbers of settlements close to protected areas that were "off limits" during the LRA insurgency. With the current rate of settlement and the growing demand for access to land, it is clear that while human wildlife conflicts around the Murchison Falls Protected Area are still growing, involving communities through programs such as this will go a long way in providing a sustainable solution. The equipment that the Tourism for Biodiversity project provided will undoubtedly increase the scouts' motivation and help them to achieve their goal of reducing human-wildlife conflict in the Ayago – Koch Goma Sub-county area.
Left: Scouts demonstrate how they apply pepper mixture at the park boundary to scare away elephants from raiding community crops. Middle: Scouts show how elephant deterrents are applied.
Right: George Okeny, the scouts' leader, addressing UWA and AWF officials.