Uganda Wildlife Authority has made huge positive strides in boosting the image of Uganda as a successful conservation and tourist destination country gifted by nature.
Having been ranked among the best tourist destinations in the World by the international media such as Lonely Planet, The New York Times and National Geographic, UWA has and continues to do everything possible to ensure there is plenty of wildlife for tourists to enjoy. UWA therefore as a key player in the tourism sector will continue upholding world best practices to implement management strategies that enhance the performance of the wildlife and tourism sectors in Uganda.
Following stories that have appeared in the press and more particularly one that appeared in the press under the headline “Ostriches, Lions and Zebras Face extinction,” where the newspaper quotes from a new audit of wildlife populations in game parks by the Office of the Auditor General, UWA would like to make some clarifications.
Whereas UWA acknowledges that the Office of the Auditor General carried out a value for money audit in 2011, the story has some errors which need to be corrected to depict the exact situation as far as wildlife populations in protected areas are concerned. The decline in some wildlife populations in some of the protected areas is a result of many factors both anthropogenic and environmental as a result of climate change. It should therefore not be entirely attributed to the weakness in management as climate change is a global reality and has affected almost all countries.
Worth noting as well is that as the human population continues to grow, the population of wildlife worldwide continues to reduce due to habitat loss and other pressures exerted by the increasing human population. The decline in some wildlife populations especially Kobs in Queen Elizabeth National Park is mainly a result of climate change that has modified the habitat and affected their breeding patterns. UWA is working with universities both in Uganda and oversees as well as renowned wildlife research organizations such the Wildlife Conservation Society to undertake research into the population dynamics of the Uganda Kob in Queen Elizabeth National Park and will at an appropriate time after undertaking scientific research explain the observed decline.
Murchison Falls National Park did not lose 25 elephants in 2011 as quoted in the report. The figure of 25 is for the whole country, which though higher than was previously recorded since the early 90s is still lower than what our neighboring elephant range states are losing through poaching per year. There is generally an increase in elephant poaching in all elephant range states in Africa following the down listing of elephants in southern African countries (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe) by CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species) at CoP 15 in Qatar 2010 and lifting the international ban on ivory trade from those countries whose elephant populations were down listed from CITES Appendix I to CITES Appendix II. The lifting of this ban for southern African countries triggered increased ivory demand especially in Asia that most probably caused increased elephant poaching not only in Uganda but in the whole continent. UWA has worked an continues to work with Police, UPDF, Customs and the Judiciary to curtail ivory trade in Uganda that is the cause of elephant poaching through arresting and successfully prosecuting ivory traffickers. As a result, we have not registered any incident of elephant poaching in the parks since November 2010.
The report noted that lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park have reduced by 81%. This is however not true as the lion population in Queen Elizabeth National Park has reduced by about 50% from approximately 400 in the 1980s to the current estimate of 200. Most of these lions have been radio collared for monitoring by UWA in partnership with the Uganda Large Predator Project and Wildlife Conservation Society, so it is very easy to ascertain their population. The most significant reduction in lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park was registered during the Basongora invasion of the park in 2007 when over 30 lions were poisoned by the cattle keepers in a space of five months. Other than occasional incidents of lion poisoning by pastoralists, the other factor responsible for the low numbers is the high infant mortality that is a natural phenomenon with most predator populations in an ecosystem as well as disease. There is still plenty of prey in QENP for lions. Also to be noted is that the recent change in land use from fishing to cattle keeping by some residents of fishing villages inside QENP is another big threat to lion populations.
Overall however, the general trend for most wildlife species in Uganda shows a positive growth over the years particularly from the 1980s to present (see attached table) even though the populations have not reached the levels of the 1960s and early 1970s. The wildlife habitats have continued to shrink due to the increase in human populations that has resulted in the destruction of wildlife habitats particularly forests, bush land and wetlands. What used to be corridors for wildlife dispersal and migration in the 1960s – 1980s have since been settled in by people. This has resulted in increased human-wildlife conflicts as wildlife try to push through the former corridors and other dispersal areas where they encounter crops and do serious (crop raiding). This has in turn affected the relations between UWA and local communities whose crops are destroyed by wildlife but UWA has engaged several strategies such as digging of trenches, construction of buffalo walls, use of chilli, planting the Mauritius thorn fence, promoting growing of unpalatable commercial crops, bee keeping along the park boundary and other measures to address the crop raiding by wildlife.
Finally UWA calls upon the general public to be patient as government is in the final stages of resource mobilization to fence off the protected areas as a way of stopping animals from crossing over from national parks to community land. In conclusion, UWA reiterates its position that wildlife populations in protected areas have significantly increased over the years despite the numerous challenges the organization has faced in the fulfillment of its mandate.