By Julius Odeke
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in conjunction with Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in 2015 conducted an aerial surveys of elephants in Uganda‘s national parks, the results of the survey projected that their numbers is increasing and stood at 5,000.
That is not good news enough for the conservationists and Uganda as a country. We need to invest much effort to ensure that the number of Uganda’s elephants increases more than the number projected. The survey confirmed the need to establish trans-boundary conservation programs with South Sudan and Kenya and to strengthen existing collaboration with Democratic Republic of Congo.
It should be noted with great concern that the rate in which poachers are killing elephants in our national parks is highly alarming. And all the stakeholders in this regard, should wake up through conducting massive sensitization of people countrywide so as to conserve and even increase that number.
In 1970s and 1980s because of the widespread poaching and limited resources for the national parks, Uganda’s elephant numbers plummeted. Elephants became confined to protected areas due to poaching pressures and numbers dropped as low as 700-800 individuals in the country.
Statistics show that we have improved in our protection and conservation mechanisms that since the 1990s and the creation of UWA, together with support from Government, donors, and conservation partners such as; Natural Resource Conservation Network (NRCN), elephant numbers are now on increase. But even then, a lot need to be done by totally stopping the illegal wildlife trade.
Despite the rampant poaching and ivory trafficking across much of Africa, it is very encouraging to see elephant numbers increasing in Uganda as a result of effective protection in several parks. And this, we can credit all the stakeholders for job well done.
Aerial surveys conducted in June 2014 by WCS and UWA staff estimated 1,330 elephants in Murchison Falls National Park, 2,913 in Queen Elizabeth National Park and 656 in the Kidepo Valley National Park and Karenga Community Wildlife Management area.
Elephant numbers in Queen Elizabeth Park have reached levels similar to those in the 1960s before heavy poaching hit the Park. There is a continued population recovery in Murchison, a former elephant stronghold, and UWA’s protection efforts are yielding positive results for many wildlife species in Kidepo Valley and Karenga.
NRCN which plays the role of a conservationist is keeping a keen eye on those poachers and with strong collaboration with the police and the Judiciary, suspects and being arrested and brought to book. By this, those who plan engaging in illegal wildlife trade mostly in ivory have a strong reason to worry and should discard such plans.
Uganda was labelled by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) in 2012 as one of the eight countries of primary concern in the ivory trade because of the volume of illegal ivory that had passed through Uganda. Here, I say, we have a big task to have our country struck off from that labeling.
While it is sweet news to our ears and encouraging that elephant numbers are increasing. It’s not yet done. This is because poaching remains a big challenge nevertheless in Uganda and there is a need to remain vigilant. Recently, NRCN and police have kept arresting suspects with ivory. Meaning, Uganda is still not completely secure from poaching but the new survey results provide encouragement for conservationists when nearly every other country in Africa is showing drastic declines in numbers of elephants.
Government should come up with strict penalties against those caught in the act of illegal wildlife trade in the country so that we shall be able to protect and conserve wildlife. By this, we shall be able to protect and conserve animals or plants.
Law enforcers need impetus to do a robust work. For example, Uganda Wildlife Act Section 30, prohibits the utilization of wildlife without a wildlife use right. It further states that, “No person may engage in any of the activities under section 29 or any other activities of a like nature which involve the utilisation of wildlife and wildlife products without first obtaining a grant of a wildlife use right.”
Without elephants, Uganda’s landscape would be unrecognizable, yet these animals are getting extinct as a result of two enormous waves of poaching that is being done by the US and China in this modern age. China has moved its economy to being one of the leading economies globally mostly due to illegal trade. The US which is the world’s second-largest market for ivory is using legal trade in old ivory as a cover for illegal trade in new ivory.
These countries are rich because they use our raw materials and to matters worse, they have the money and with the biting poverty in Africa, it pushes us to deal to trading in illegal wildlife unknowing that we are depleting our natural resources.
In African forests, mostly in DR Congo which has its forest belt extending to Uganda’s border from the west, elephants declined by 62 percent in less than a decade. This drastic decline was due to a lethal cocktail of illegal hunting, habitat loss and civil strife that have impeded our region, and are the more urgently at risk of losing the two species.
Uganda should tighten restrictions on the import, export and sale of ivory products to, from and in the United States, China and any other country. Let us handle well the crisis of the animals’ slaughter then we see how we can fail to preserve our wildlife.
Odeke is a Head of Media Relations with Natural Resource Conservation Network
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