It is no secret that the challenges that face wildlife conservation in Uganda today are bigger and more complex than ever before, particularly given the human population increase and the need for more land for settlement, cultivation, grazing and industry.
Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), which is in charge of managing the country’s protected areas and wildlife (wild animals) outside protected areas, has taken stock of these challenges and tasked itself to undertake a number of actions aimed at restoring the ecosystems in the protected areas, building management capacity and attracting more investors and tourists to the country through image enhancement.
The challenges that UWA is battling with include among others:
- Encroachment on the protected areas
- Securing the protected areas and the wildlife
- Raising funds for wildlife conservation
- Strengthening private sector investments in conservation and tourism
- Carrying out scientific research for improving management of Protected Areas.
In a bid to address the above challenges UWA has undertaken the following actions:
1) Management of Encroachment in Mt. Elgon NP
Mt. Elgon is today the most encroached-upon national park in Uganda even as its popularity with local and foreign tourists increases. Following a joint UWA-UPDF-Police operation that was carried out after the unfortunate shooting of a Belgian tourist on 5th February 2008, it was discovered that there was a lot of thuggery caused by the presence of illegal arms among the communities that were encroaching on Mt. Elgon NP. Cattle rustling and illegal grazing were found to be rampant, and massive degradation was evident.
Because of the fact that the increased thuggery was eroding tourists’ confidence in the park and in Uganda as a tourist destination, UWA decided to remove all encroachers from the park, with full backing of the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry.
To ensure that encroachers were all removed from the park and to address the needs of the people as well the Minister of State for Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities, Hon Serapio Rukundo and the Minister of Tourism Trade and Industry, Hon Janat Mukwaya visited the area and met with the local leaders and the community to further sensitize them on the importance of conservation and the other income opportunities avalaible.
As we speak, all encroachers on the Kapchorwa side of Mt. Elgon have been removed. However, UWA appreciates the need to find land for some Benet families, which are totally landless having failed to get portions of the 6,000ha that government gave them in 1983, which was an earlier attempt by government to solve the problem. These Benet families will be given the land that will be recovered from people who apportioned themselves more land than their entitlement during the 1983 land allocation and there may be some boundary adjustments subject to parliament approval so as to the match the legal park boundary line with the 1983 “boundary” line.
The LC V Chairman for Kapchorwa District was tasked with identifying those who either allocated themselves large pieces of land or influenced the committee to allocate them large pieces of land in 1983 or in subsequent years. Such persons include the Forestry staff who at the time managed the allocation process, the district leaders and politicians (individuals holding political office) and those who claim to have bought.
During meetings with the communities and leaders of Manafwa and Bududa Districts, the minister called on them to learn to co-exist with the park and to respect the park boundary. She rejected the accusations of communities who claimed to dispute the boundary, and clarified that the data that was used at the time the park was gazetted was the same data used during surveying of the boundary in 2005. The Minister specifically emphasised :
- the need to control population growth
- the need for district leaders to help people access Bona Bagaggawale funds
- the need to carry out zoning for agricultural development and linking this to industrialisation
- government’s plan to improve social services when oil revenue begins coming in.
- that there will be NO further degazettement of protected areas or portions of them.
The Minister, Hon Mukwaya will within the month of April 2008 meet the area Members of Parliament from the Mt Elgon region and District leaders to discuss ways in which population growth and economic transformation can be achieved to reduce over dependency on traditional crops grown in the area and to enhance agro-processing and thus stop the clamour for degazettement of Protected Areas.
The Minister warned political leaders from the region to desist from inciting the community to encroach on the park and to use encroachment on the park as a campaign tool but rather to concentrate on real development issues and programs like high value crops, agro-processing, sanitation, family planning and education which will help transform the community and allow for a harmonious co-existence with the protected areas whose environmental values are obvious to all, especially in Bududa where every year landslides are experienced with loss of human life and property.