Memories of 11 lions that were poisoned in Hamukungu village, bordering Queen Elizabeth National Park are still fresh in Derrick Ajuna’s mind. One afternoon, in April 2018, he was drawn to a scene with carcasses scattered about. Ajuna, head guide of Kasoga Community Experience in the same area, believes that many people within the community, have not appreciated the value of wildlife.
“Even after the incident, animals continue to destroy crops and feed on domestic animals. The community argues that if they benefitted from wild animals, there would not be any problem,” he reveals.
With the new Uganda Wildlife Act 2019, tourism stakeholders and conservationists are elated that stringent laws have been considered to protect wildlife and increase sustainability. President Museveni assented to The Wildlife Act on July 1, 2019.
The new law replaces the old Uganda Wildlife Act 1996, which conservationists say, was not deterrent enough. “The previous law was weak. That is why we worked on a tougher one. From seven years to life imprisonment. We have the toughest wildlife conservation law in the wild,” declares Dr Barirega Akankwasa, commissioner of Wildlife Conservation at the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities.
The highest penalty in the new Act is a maximum fine of Shs20 billion or life imprisonment, or both for an offence related to a wildlife species classified as extinct in the wild, critically endangered. These include the roan antelope, lion, hunting dog, spotted and stripped hyena, greater and lesser kudu, Ssese Island Sitatunga, Cheetah, African elephant, Delany’s mouse, and endangered species such as impala, Rwenzori duiker, Rothschild’s giraffe, mountain gorilla and the common chimpanzee.
A person who, without a permit takes, hunts, molests or reduces into possession protected specimen or is found with, sells, buys, transfers or accepts transfer of protected specimen, commits an offence and shall on conviction, be liable to a maximum fine of Shs200 million or to a jail term or both.
The Act also gives court powers to fine a first-time offender, Shs7 million or to a term of imprisonment, not exceeding 10 years, or both. Second time or subsequent offenders are required to pay a fine of Shs10 million or serve a maximum jail term of 20 years, or both.
The punishment for use of weapons, traps, explosives is Shs100 million fine or 10 years imprisonment, or both. This also applies to persons who unlawfully prepare land for cultivation, mining or those who take, destroy, damage or deface any object of geomorphological, archaeological, historical, cultural or scientific value.
UWA reports from 2009 to 2017, reveal more than 13,000 human wildlife conflicts, involving livestock predation by lions and leopards, elephant crop damage as well as hippo, buffalo and chimpanzee attacks. Between 1996 and 2009, 300 crocodile attacks were recorded. Among these, 247 deaths and 63 survival cases were recorded. Stray animals have turned areas around Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls Conservation Area and Kidepo Valley National Park into conflict hotspots. Since 2009, the number of human-wildlife conflict has risen by more than 22 per cent.
The new law provides for compensation for loss occasioned by animals escaping from wildlife protected areas. Communities near protected areas have for long cast blame on Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) for delayed response when animals cross to community farmlands and feed on both their crops and domestic animals.
According to the Act, compensation will be given to a person who suffers body injury or is killed or suffers damage of his or her property by wild animals. This will be effected when the person’s legal representative submits a claim to the wildlife compensation verification committee. The committee shall verify a claim and submit it to the board together with its recommendation. The board will then review the claim and if approved, compensate victims according to the market rates.
However, some stakeholders have expressed concern about compensatable animal list . “I am concerned about the implementation. It is going to be difficult to value the damage. Even with the presence of the verification committee, I do not know how transparent the process is going to be. Many species of animals were left out of this arrangement. For example, among the primates, they considered baboons, mountain gorillas, and chimpanzees. Vervet monkeys which raid our crops are left out. Some communities have been reported to grow crops along gazetted conservation areas with the intention of getting compensated, when animals raid their gardens. All those issues need to be addressed,” says John Tinka, founder of Kibale Association for Rural and Environmental Development (KAFRED) based in Kamwenge District.
According to the Act, section 84(1)(b), the compensatable wildlife species that cause damage to property are elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, hippo, baboon, gorilla, chimpanzee and bushpig. The compensatable wildlife species that cause death and injury are elephant, lion, leopard, crocodile, buffalo, hyena, hippo, gorilla and chimpanzee.
The new law has reforms on the revenue sharing programme. The board shall authorise the executive director of UWA to pay 20 per cent of the park entry fees, collected from a wildlife protected area, to the local government of the area surrounding the wildlife protected zone from which the fees were collected, as a conditional grant.
Akankwasa, a member of the UWA board of trustees, says there is no longer room for diversion of funds. “Previously, money was sent to local government, as their revenue and they could use it for allowances or spend it any way, they deemed fit. Now funds will go as conditional grants for specific community projects, such as building a classroom block”, he explains.
Dr Caroline Asiimwe, a veterinarian and conservation coordinator at Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS) wishes the fund was availed to communities near forest reserves. “Much as 20 per cent is given to communities around protected areas which are national parks, consideration should be made for those living around forest reserves, where there is also wildlife and the communities are suffering the damages from animals such as baboons,” she says.
The new law favours commercialisation of wildlife on private land through sustainable utilisation. The executive director of UWA may, with the approval of the board, enter into any suitable commercial or collaborative arrangement with any person for: the management of a conservation area or a portion, provision of services and infrastructure in a conservation area or the management of a species or a class of species of animals or plants.
Makerere University don and wildlife researcher Dr Amos Ochieng argues that collaborative commercial arrangements to manage conservation areas is a well thought out idea, adding that, “Wildlife management should be treated as a land use activity to offer opportunities for economic and social benefits. Wildlife is found on both protected and private land. Collaboration with private land owners to manage conservation areas will offer more chances of wildlife survival outside protected areas.”
The new Wildlife Act 2019 has generated mixed reactions among tourism and conservation stakeholders. Gillian Josephine, a tour operator based in northern Uganda, applauds the idea of giving 20 per cent to communities as conditional grants.
“That is good for conservation initiatives in the communities, since those community projects will have direct tangible effects to them. They will ‘own conservation’ as opposed to the ‘I do not care’ about wildlife attitude. The act will also lead to reduction in the wildlife-human conflicts because there is now compensation for problems which animals cause to communities. My people of Nwoya and those around Karenga, Orom can now take up conservation programmes seriously,” she says.
Honest and fair committee
Tinka, whose association manages Bigodi Sanctuary, is concerned about the composition of the Community Wildlife Committee (CWC). He hopes the CWC will be fair and honest because it is composed of many government officials and only a handful of community members.
“For the case of Kibaale, we have someone from Kamwenge District Local Government, Kyenjojo, Kabarole, Bunyangabu, Kasese, one from a non-governmental organisation (NGO) and Community Development Officer (CDO). But from the wildlife interpretation, a community means people who come from parishes that make the park’s boundary. I am hoping that they will invite representatives from these parishes to form part of the committee,” he argues.
Composition of the committee
Every wildlife conservation area will have a community wildlife committee which will act as a link between UWA and the local community. The composition of the CWC is a representative of UWA, who shall be the secretary of the committee, a representative of each of the district local government surrounding the conservation area, a wildlife conservation NGO operating around the conservation area and a representative of a community wildlife association, operating within the wildlife conservation area. The members of the CWC shall be appointed by the minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, in consultation with the UWA board. By definition in the Act, a community is an assemblage of human beings, living in a defined geographical area and identified by a common history, a common culture or a common residence in that area.
With a solid wildlife law, Uganda can fight against wildlife criminals who have had little fear of the paltry fines and prison sentences in the past. The act is envisioned to boost tourism and encourage local communities to appreciate the value of tourism and conservation.