The Monitor (Kampala)
9 July 2007
Our Kenyan neighbours have once again led by example, this time round by successfully mounting a spirited fight for the ban in ivory trade to protect the country's tourism industry.
Wildlife conservation is the backbone of Kenya's vibrant tourism industry whose flagship species, the elephants, were being targeted by poachers. The Kenya government is smart and knows the hand that feeds its economy.
It could not allow poachers who cash-in on the lucrative trade in ivory to have their way. The Kenya government engaged delegates from 171 member countries of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna (Cites) and managed to win a nine-year ban in ivory trade. This was at the 14th conference of parties on the African elephant and ivory trade that sat in The Hague, Netherlands last month.
Unfortunately, back home in Uganda all is not rosy for our ecotourism with a growing population of marauding pastoralists encroaching on the country's national parks which are the natural habitats of wildlife.
Queen Elizabeth National park, one of the country's largest national parks, has come under attack from Basongora encroachers putting the lives of hundreds of wildlife species in real danger.
The herdsmen who are believed to be armed with guns have now declared themselves "rebels" and have vowed not to leave. They illegally occupy the areas of Nyabubare, Rwenjubu, Kanyampara, Muhokya, Hamukungu, Kamulikwizi and Kyondo in the vast national park.
And yet the Queen Elizabeth is not the only wildlife conservation area that is threatened by human settlement. Katonga, Semilki, Kidepo and Kaboya game reserves are all suffering from some level of human encroachment. That, in turn, has touched off a mass exodus of wild animals to safer but more distant places.
Already, a pride of 10 lions (which is a whole family) of these great wild beasts, has been wiped out in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Mr Moses Mapesa, the Executive Director of Uganda Wildlife Authority (Uwa), says encroachers apply poison to kill animals in their illegal quest to settle deep in the park. UWA has discovered various remains of lions including teeth, skin and claws.
The reported outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the park has not helped matters either. A joint team consisting of technical officers from the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries and Uwa has noted the catastrophic nature of the disease to wildlife, livestock and the tourism industry especially due to the fact that whilst vaccination is applicable in cattle, the only practical way to prevent infection in the wildlife is to separate wildlife from livestock.
The criminal activities taking place in Queen Elizabeth National Park sit oddly on the fact that one in every 10 tourists coming to Uganda would like to see a lion.
So what has caused this burst of volatility? A ruthless group of people who have no regard for the country's wildlife conservation efforts are flouting the law with impunity.
Wherever they come from, the Basongora pastoralists and any other nomadic groupings should not be allowed to encroach on a vital national resource and engage in the criminal activity of killing protected wildlife. A protected national animal park is not their place to be.
The Uganda Wildlife Act , is the law which serves to promote sustainable management of wildlife. The law provides that the ownership of every wild animal and wild plant existing in its wild habitat in Uganda is vested in the government on behalf of and for the benefit of the people of Uganda.
The law also serves to protect and preserve populations of rare, endemic and endangered species of wild life and planst which among others include lions and elephants. The law does not allow the destruction or encroachment of a wildlife sanctuary like a national park by human settlements.
It is the provision of the law that any person who enters a wildlife protected area without authority commits an offence and should be arrested and prosecuted. Uwa, which is mandated to enforce the law to protect the country's wildlife resources should not allow the obstinate encroachment of our natural heritage and tourism jewel to continue unabated.
The number of mammals, birds and amphibians in Queen Elizabeth National Park is dwindling due to habitat loss and this must stop.