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A new audit of wildlife populations in game parks shows that the number of animals is on a sharp decline, raising fears of a possible extinction of some rare species.
Last year alone, 25 elephants were killed in Murchison Falls, which is the worst scenario ever reported in a single conservation area, considering that Uganda was previously losing around three elephants only to poaching every year.
“The population of some wild animals is declining,” the Auditor General said.
“Mostly affected are the lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park, whose population has reduced by 81 per cent, followed by ostriches (79 per cent), Zebras (74 per cent) and Uganda Kobs (69 per cent), among others”.
Currently, tourism contributes about 5.7 per cent of the national Gross Domestic Product per annum. The World Travel and Tourism Council figures further show that the total contribution of travel and tourism to Uganda’s GDP, including its wider economic impacts, is forecast to rise by 5.9 per cent per annum from Shs3.3 trillion, which is 7.6 per cent of GDP this year, to Shs5.8 trillion and 7.4 per cent GDP contribution by 2021.
With limited research, Auditor General John Muwanga said it is difficult to fully understand the range of factors that affect wildlife populations and habitats and the relationship between them.
“Catastrophic death and reduction in numbers of animals such as the Uganda Kob in Queen Elizabeth National Park and similar incidences in other parks has occurred without finding the root cause,” Mr Muwanga said.
In attempting to understand why wild animals were declining, the audit found that for the last three years, illegal activities inside the protected areas such as encroachment, especially in East Madi Wildlife Reserve and Mt. Elgon National Park, poaching and illegal harvesting of resources have significantly increased. This in a way affected the natural habitat of wildlife.
“Some species such as the black and white rhino, Derbys and Oryx have since become extinct in Uganda.” Mr Muwanga said.
The Roan and Bridget’s gazelle are some of the animals that are listed as endangered, with low populations from the last count in 1998. “These species, both combined, are less than 110 in number,” he said.
The latest findings contained in the value for money audit by the Auditor General provide further evidence that Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), a statutory body mandated to protect flora and fauna across the country, is failing to accomplish the task of preserving the remnant of the country’s endangered species.
UWA derives its mandate from the Uganda Wildlife Act 2000. The Act mandates UWA to manage all the country’s wildlife and wildlife-protected areas, which include 10 national parks and 12 wildlife reserves.
UWA is also responsible for ensuring the coordination, monitoring and supervision of the activities related to wildlife management in the country. In his defence, UWA Executive Director Andrew Sseguya told auditors that there was need for government to increase funding to UWA and create an independent wildlife research body to compliment and support its functions as is the case in other countries.
Currently, UWA requires about 3,300 rangers to adequately cover the entire wildlife estate in the country but at the moment has about 1,200 rangers. “UWA is currently overwhelmed by other wildlife management issues resulting in limited concentration on research as a function of management,” Dr Sseguya said.
“The Wildlife Policy under review has already identified this need and is providing for the creation of a Uganda Wildlife Research and Training Institute to address the wildlife research and training gaps in the sector.”
To ensure wildlife protection, UWA was to develop fire management plans for each protected area, have an effective ranger density to counter threats of game poaching and illegal activities in and around the protected areas, develop and maintain relevant infrastructure within the areas, protect the wildlife habitat, reduce the threat of invasive species, and enlist the support of the communities surrounding the game parks.
However, the audit established that UWA was not effectively protecting the wildlife in and around the protected areas. UWA said the total encroached area in Mt. Elgon is only 6,000 hectares and most of this is under contention with court cases and injunctions that make it difficult for UWA to address.
Once the court process is completed, UWA said all encroached areas will be reclaimed.
Meanwhile, the Auditor General observed that the animals have also become a nuisance to the local populace.
They destroy crops, kill humans and livestock. As a result, this has created conflict between the communities neighbouring the park and wildlife officials, thus hurting UWA’s community conservation initiatives.
By YASIIN MUGERWA: The Monitor Newspaper
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