Friday, June 08, 2007

Uganda to start sport hunting of leopards

Publication date: Thursday, 7th June, 2007

By Harriette Onyalla

UGANDA has been allowed to introduce leopard hunting as a sport. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) on Wednesday approved a proposal by the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Ministry of Trade to partially lift a ban on leopard hunting.

The country can now kill a maximum of 28 leopards annually.

"For the exclusive purpose of sport hunting for trophies and skins for personal use," the proposal read.

Uganda’s original proposal of an export quota of 50 leopards was amended just before the meeting.

The first proposal had also sought to down-list leopards from appendix one to appendix two of the CITES grading.

The organisation grades animals and plants according to the degree of protection they need. Appendix one covers species threatened with extinction.

"Trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances," the CITES website explains. Species in appendix two are not threatened with extinction but trade in this species is controlled.

According to the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda has a total of 2,700 leopards. Its executive director, Sam Mwandha, said the hunting sport would benefit the country.

Each trophy hunter would be required to pay $50,000 (sh83m) per leopard killed.

"It is unlikely that any Ugandan will be interested in the sport, especially with the cost, but we are expecting a lot of foreigners. It is easier to regulate the number of leopards hunted because trophy hunters want to show off their prizes," he noted.

According to a survey carried out in Kiruhura district by the Lake Mburo Conservation Area Problem Animal Unit, nine leopards were killed between 2003 to March 2006.

"Sport hunting will make leopards more valuable than being poisoned or killed. It will also generate tangible economic benefits that will motivate local people to protect them instead of regarding them as vermin," Mwandha argued. The country director of the World Conservation Union, Alex Muhwezi, supported the lift of the ban.

"By the time Uganda presents its case at CITES, which is a big international meet, it means that they have good scientific backing to suggest that these animals be hunted."

However, another conservationist criticised the move, arguing that CITES approved the proposal without ascertaining the population of the leopards in the country.

"Despite a profound lack of contemporary scientific information about the population status of leopards in Africa, the meeting supported proposals to establish and increase leopard trophy export quotas," commented Will Travers, the chairman of the Species Survival Network.

"It is terribly unfortunate that CITES parties have again put the interests of wealthy trophy hunters above the needs of imperiled species."

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