Uganda’s being described as the Pearl of Africa by Sir Winston Churchill is truly befitting. The country’s endowments range from the animals and plants to the diverse bird species, some of which are not found anywhere else in the world.
Concerns raised over the reported declining numbers of some wildlife in the country notwithstanding, authorities maintain that there is steady progress in conservation.
Speaking during the Wildlife Day recently, Tourism minister, Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, said there has been tremendous recovery of a number of species, attributing this to the prevailing peace.
“Since peace and stability returned in this country, there has been an increase in wildlife species,” Prof Kamuntu said.
Among some of the species that have registered an increase are the elephants and buffalos, gorillas, and kobs. “The elephant population has increased from only 2,000 in 1983 4,322 in 2016 and the last census in 2014 the population is estimated at 5,346. In 1992, Buffalos were 25,000 but today we are talking of almost 37,000,” Prof Kamuntu stated.
He said these figures are proof that the country’s conservation efforts are bearing fruits.
Step in right direction
Speaking to Saturday Monitor, acting commissioner of wildlife conservation in the Tourism ministry, Dr Akankwasah Barirega, said although statistics and figures from ecological research cannot be as accurate as medical research, they are scientifically sound.
He says the country in the 1960s had a lot of wildlife but these were affected by the civil strife.
“When peace prevailed and protected area management came back to life, we have seen a slow recovery of our animal populations. If you put Botswana and Southern parts of Africa aside, Uganda’s elephant population is the only population in Africa that is growing,” he said.
The country director of Wildlife Conservation Society, Dr Simon Nampindo, says while there is a registered increase in the elephant population, there is need to step up efforts to ensure Uganda does not become a conduit for contraband.
“The trends show that the elephant population is growing because the Uganda wildlife Authority is doing a good job in developing anti-poaching strategies but there is another threat where ivory and other wildlife products are being trafficked through Uganda. We need to step up our efforts and ensure that Uganda does not become a conduit for illegal wildlife trade and trafficking,” Dr Nampindo said.
Meanwhile, the Uganda Wildlife Authority executive director, Dr Andrew Sseguya, says UWA does not wish to see Uganda turn into a conduit for contraband ivory.
“As an organisation we have put up a number of measures, among which is setting up a canine unit.
These dogs are trained to sense ivory and other wildlife products wherever they are,” Dr Sseguya said.
However, all is not rosy with some wildlife species endangered and others reducing in number due to various factors. Among the threatened species are lions, the grey crowned crane commonly known as crested crane and the shoebill stork.
Dr Nampindo, says while there has not been a national census to ascertain the exact number of lions, one done in three conservation areas of Kidepo Valley National Park, Murchison Falls National park and Queen Elizabeth totalled close to 500 individuals.
He, however, is concerned about the population of the grey crowned crane which has reduced by 80 per cent.
“The population of the grey crowned crane has reduced by nearly 80 per cent. We had 30,000 individuals in 1970s. Now we are talking about just slightly above 13,000 individuals. It is a huge crash and this is a species of national heritage,” Dr Nampindo raised concern.
According to the Living Planet Report 2014 by the Worldwide Fund for nature (WWF), some of the factors which have threatened wildlife include habitat degradation and loss, competition for land for other uses, invasive species, and the increased human population which increases pressure on the existing ecosystems.
Dr Nampindo calls on government to increase budget for conservation and allocate enough resources to the concerned agencies.
Besides the funds, Dr Nampindo says there is lack of coordination despite existence of good legal and policy framework.
“Some of the policies are sitting in different ministries and everybody is acting in isolation, otherwise the enabling policies are there, although in some areas they may need strengthening,” Dr Nampindo argued.
Dr Barirega says at policy level, government is fully committed, however, more focus needs to be put on implementation.
He says the country has a wildlife policy 2014 and the ministry is working on the Uganda Wildlife Bill 2015 which proposes tough penalties for wildlife crime offenders.
“The current law (Wildlife Act) is very weak and gives light sentences. For example the maximum sentence is seven years yet courts are reluctant to award it,” Dr Barirega said.
“However, the new law proposes a minimum of Shs9 million fine and 20 years imprisonment for endangered species and maximum of a life sentence,” he added.
He is optimistic that with such deterrent penalties Uganda will go a long way in dealing with wildlife crime.