Animal welfare key to conservation efforts

Miss Tourism Buganda Winifred Tebesigwa feeds ostriches at Chakig. Diets for birds under captivity must be complimented.  PHOTOS/GEORGE KATONGOLE

What you need to know:

To earn that accreditation, a zoo must demonstrate alignment with its mission, a sound business operation and significant activity in the areas of education, conservation and research.

In 1923, major conservation activities of wildlife began in Uganda mainly to reduce the damage of wild animals to peasant agriculture.

The animals in captivity are kept in jail-house enclosures to limit movement and further destruction of property and crops.

Chakig Eco-Resort in Nakoosi village, Mukono District, which is one of the five private conservation areas recognised in Uganda, launched strategic management tools to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) as they seek approval for adding stock.

Experts highlighted the need to focus on welfare and animal lives, especially for animals in captivity. It is no longer about enclosures to limit damage but how to keep them.

Innocent Asiimwe, the Licensing and Inspection Officer at ‎Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) says that zoos and aquariums must provide surroundings that resemble their native habitat enabling animals to behave in ways that are typical of their species.

Asiimwe says that the increasing knowledge on animals has fundamentally altered the way animals are cared for.

“Instead of focusing on animal care, the industry is now requiring that conservation areas meet high standards of animal welfare. This is important in how zoos and aquariums qualify for accreditation,” he says.

Uganda has 10 national parks, 12 wildlife reserves, five private conservation areas and 12 sanctuaries where wildlife is conserved.

Members of Chakig launch the foundation plans to UWA and UWEC members last week. Right is Paul Koorinako, the director of Chakig Eco-resort in Mukono. The facility requires Shs1.6b to upgrade its activities. 

Welfare

When natives lived freely, hunting was a legal activity. Animals could be killed for food, clothing and trophies. But when game numbers started declining, conservation, especially in zoos and aquariums, was adopted. The first conservation area to be established in Uganda was Entebbe Zoo, now called UWEC. Since then, management of wildlife has taken progressive forms.

The Wildlife Act 2019, which stipulates among others, conserving wildlife commensurate with other forms of land use, is a game changer.

Although at zoos, animals are displayed for the amusement of the public with education on the beauty of the animals, the conditions these animals are kept to produce ideal welfare is key.

James Musinguzi, the executive director of UWEC, stresses the importance of welfare standards.

Tourism such an important industry being the leading foreign exchange earner by generating $1,453m in 2017. This income partly comes from conservation areas and their ecosystem.

Musinguzi says that as much as tourism contributes a healthy percentage to the economy, the need for conservation research always far outstrips the available funding.

“As UWEC, we struggled a lot especially under the Covid-19 lockdown. But private zoos struggle with not only funds, which they must access from other sources, but also technical support to keep operating,” Musinguzi says.

He adds that conservation takes passion as community conservation education is key to teach people about having poor attitudes towards wildlife. But passion is not enough to run a successful conservation project.

It is personal

Sarah Nakalema, a zoo keeper at Chakig explains that proper care of animals is a big part of her job. The animals in captivity at the facility include ostriches and turtles.

Nakalema says that as a daily routine, she has to monitor how the animals are behaving and if they have any medical issues such as injuries, she alerts vets from UWEC.

She also monitors each of the animals to study their feeding or mating behaviour. As part of her duty, she provides food such as vegetables, fruits and maize bran to ostriches to complement the food from nature.

Understanding such issues and a multitude of others, Nakalema says, helps her and the owners to optimise the welfare of animals under their care.

She explains that captive animals typically outlive their wild counterparts which makes zoos a lifeboat for an increasing number of animals that are becoming extinct.

Musinguzi, who is the President of African Zoos and Aquariums, explains that zoo-based efforts succeed if understanding of the animals’ lives is fully integrated with husbandry.

As part of UWEC’s mandate, they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Chakig and other private facilities, to allow them complement education and conservation activities being undertaken in the green growth economy.

Accreditation

According to Asiimwe, accreditation helps regulators maintain best practices.

Section 29 of the Uganda Wildlife Act provides six wildlife use rights classes under which the general public can benefit from wildlife. The wildlife use rights (WUR) have been in force since 2001.

The user rights promote the conservation of wildlife outside Protected Areas (PAs) while eliminating the negative perception by some people who still regarded wildlife as government property and of benefit to only foreign tourists.

The user rights granted local community associations, private landowners and the private sector in Uganda are:

Class A that targets sport hunting for tourists and safaris where the benefits include food/protein, trophies, leisure or economic gain. The granting of such use rights depends on the viable population of target species and appropriate monitoring and enforcement systems. Currently, there are only two companies licensed to carry out sport hunting in Uganda and these are: Game Trails and Lake Albert Safaris (operating in and around Kaiso-Tonya Community Wildlife Area and Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve).

Class B is done under a controlled environment for farming. The licence holder does not require large land to implement wildlife farming activities. Breeding stock may be obtained from the wild but with a percentage of the offspring to be returned to the wild as the case for crocodiles. The “farmer” relies on captive breeding to replenish stock. In this category, ostrich and butterfly farming is licensed.

Class C is generally maintenance and propagation of wildlife in a natural setting on large tracts of land of more than 50 acres. UWA has already licensed some people in the private sector with land of over 42Km2 to introduce wildlife for economic benefit.

Class D is one of the main classes that has been widely implemented in Uganda dealing with the trade of wildlife and its products. Individuals and companies licensed to collect various non-endangered wildlife species outside protected areas for export.

Class E is the one that caters for keeping wildlife for research and educational purposes. This is where zoos are classified.

Class F grants people access to resources in protected areas). Communities living near protected areas are allowed access to some resources at no cost on a regulatory basis. Such resources include firewood, fish, medicinal plants, grass, water and handcraft materials, among others.

Being accredited by UWA legitimizes activities of any facilities. UWA has accredited six zoos including Ankole Demonstration Zoo, UWEC Entebbe, Kavumba Recreation Centre in Wakiso, Cwmbale Wildlife Education Centre in Mbale, Commercialisation (CTC) Conservation Center in Butambala and Chakig Eco-Tourism Centre in Mukono.

To earn that accreditation, a zoo must demonstrate alignment with its mission, a sound business operation and significant activity in the areas of education, conservation and research. But the centerpiece of accreditation is demonstrating quality of life for animals under human care.

Paul Koorinako, a director at Chakig says that they require more than Shs1.6b for quality assurance compliance.

Chakig, which operates a zoo on 40 acres, unveiled detailed standards encompassed in the foundation documents including the master plan, strategic plan and the eco-tourism management plan to plan animal welfare, to meet industry standards.

Koorinako says the accreditation standards will be met to achieve animal welfare.

James Musinguzi, the executive director Uganda Wildlife Education Centre puts emphasis on animal welfare.

Understanding animal lives

Not only must animals be healthy, but they should also display behavior typical of their species. Climbers must climb, diggers must dig and runners must run.

Musinguzi explains that zoo operators can provide such facilities only if they know what is normal for that species in the wild.

“In the first instance, we must be satisfied that there is adequate land as well as other requirements such as trees, water, a competent staff and adequate enclosures,” Musinguzi says.

But the five degrees of animal freedom need to be observed too.

The keepers must ensure that animals have appropriate space, lighting, air quality, food and water. They encompass both the mental and physical well-being of animals; such as: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury, and disease; freedom to express normal and natural behaviour; and freedom from fear and distress.

“Animals should not be hampered from their natural behaviour. An animal should, for instance, have privacy while mating,” Musinguzi says.

UWEC, working in partnership with UWA, is mandated with periodic inspection and monitoring of private animal facilities to ensure the standards are kept.

Increasing pressure

Musinguzi says that the local people are increasingly becoming aware of the value of wildlife. This is the reason UWEC is planning to start satellite centres in Gulu, Mbarara and Mbale. The National Forestry Authority (NFA) has already allocated land in the urban forest reserves.

“Bringing wildlife closer to the people by appreciating the value of wildlife is key in conservation efforts. We cannot close our eyes to the fact that tourism has created a value chain that can employ more people. This can promote socio-economic transformation of the country,” he says.

But Musinguzi is concerned with wildlife conservation challenges that include poaching and habitat loss to agriculture and other competing land uses.

Mukono, for instance, has lost almost all its natural forests.

Robert Kabanda, the mayor of Mukono Central Division says this trend needs to be reversed.

“We are affiliated to animals as people from Buganda and that is why almost all 52 clans are named after wild animals. We need to protect them as part of our heritage,” Kabanda says.

The 900-acre Namyoya Forest Reserve, for instance, has been razed down so is Kasaayi forest. Due to encroachment, only less than 400 acres are left of Namyoya. This is a threat to the natural habitats for wildlife conservation.

Forests in Uganda have shrunk from 24 per cent of the total land area in 1990 to 9 per cent in 2015, according to the State of Uganda’s Forestry report.

Musinguzi says that clearance of natural habitats is a blow to biodiversity adding that destroying even just a part of the forest’s diversity would lead to a loss of fauna and flora, and affect the animals surviving on them.

“Therefore, supporting endevours of private investors in conservation can go a long way in increasing awareness,” Musinguzi says.

History

Active concerted management of wildlife in Uganda began in 1923 with the formation of the Elephant Control Department. This was aimed at reducing the damage to peasant agriculture by the elephants.

Private conservation facilities

Chakig Eco-Tourism Centre

Ankole Demonstration Zoo (Western Zoo)

Kavumba Recreation Centre, Wakiso

Cwmbale Wildlife Education Centre

Commercialisation (CTC) Conservation Center in Butambala



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