BY ALEX BALUKU
All great Apes are classified as vulnerable or critically endangered species and they are found in Mt Rwenzori National Park Kasese district in the Western part of Uganda.
These include rampant chimpanzee, blue monkeys, Angola colobus monkey, and black-and-white colobus monkey death. Despite the ban on poaching by both international and national states, there is continued poaching.
Kasese district, the steep foothill inclines rise high above the clouds, lush with fertile soils and rich vegetation. The air is clean and crisp, and the cold rivers are clear and bursting with life, with new innovations in the business world, the story changes as people are using different tactics to trap Apes for skins, body parts and game meat.
In Rwenzori Mountain National Park, the most hunted and killed Apes include the Chimpanzee, blue monkeys; small antelopes such as bushbucks, hyrax and duikers.
According to sources, Apes and other animals are killed by hunters for food, money and rituals almost everywhere they live on Mount Rwenzori National Park despite being critically endangered. It’s devastating their populations and it’s also threatening people’s health.
The Executive Director at Rwenzori Trekking Services Limited in Bulembia Division in Kasese Municipality, Mr. John Hunwick, confirms that illegal wildlife trade was on increase in the National Park and that it was a syndicate that involves national lawless dealers who deal with local middlemen in the country. Hunwick cited a recent retrieval of more than 300 snares and traps in a period of 5 days in the month of November 2021. He said that about 10 wild animals are killed by poachers using many desperate measures including snares and traps on a daily basis.
Hunwick mentioned that poaching in the National park has increased in the last 10 years and the act has contributed to a decline in number of the forest Leopards, Forest Elephants and Chimpanzee.
He said that wildlife trade is more especially carried out in Kampala where body parts of the Chimpanzee including skin, head and private parts are sold to witch-doctors and meat to some big hotels. “This is not ending today as people are eating big out of poaching”, Hunwick adds.
He has since called on government authorities to stop the people in Kampala who are buying the wildlife meat and animal body parts.
The UWA Act stipulates that a person convicted of offences relating to the killing of protected species that are prescribed as threatened with extinction in the wild, critically endangered, or endangered, shall be liable to life imprisonment or to a fine not exceeding 10,000 currency point or both. One currency point is equivalent to Ushs20,000 ($5.6) and in this case, if convicted the suspects may also be fined Ushs200 million ($55,907).
Although there are no specific statistics on illegal wildlife trade in Uganda, a disrupting illegal wildlife trade financial investigative report lists illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest illicit activity globally. It comes after drugs, arms, and human trafficking.
The illicit trade in wildlife threatens international security, national sovereignty, impoverished rural communities, and the existence of countless animal species from pangolins to elephants.
The continued poaching and illegal wildlife trade are endangering Uganda’s wildlife potential and the above activities seem difficult to eliminate completely due to National and international demand and the lucrative amounts of money on offer for wildlife products.
According to Mr. John Hunwick of the Rwenzori Trekking Services in Kasese district, the value of a hyrax costs shillings 20,000 ($5.6), Shillings 25,000 ($7.5) per kilogram of a dicker and shillings 1050,000 ($300) for a skin of a dicker, Leopard and Chimpanzee.
The value of Ivory on the world market costs between $2,000 (Ushs7,214,964) and $2,500 (Ushs9,018,705) per kilogram, this is according to Mr. Ian Muhimbise Rumanyika, the Assistant Commissioner Public and Corporate Affairs at Uganda Revenue authority (URA).
According to the Economic Development Africa Report 2020, Tourism is Uganda’s biggest foreign exchange earner at about $1.6 billion annually. And in 2019, Uganda collected Ushs105 billion ($29,351) from wildlife revenue, according to URA figures.
WHAT POACHERS SAY
Kilembe, Bugoye, Kyarumba, Nyakiyumbu and Kahokya Sbu Counties, are some of the epicenters of poachers in Kasese.
Speaking to this reporter, a thirty seven year old Beatrice Nziabake, a wife to a poacher in Kilembe in Kyarumba Sub County and, Alice Muhindo also a wife to a prominent poacher in Bugoye Sub County, revealed that poverty was one of the reasons why their husbands are engaged in killing of wild animals. They said that the husbands for the last many years were doing poaching as a source of income and livelihood.
According to local leaders from Kyarumba, Kilembe and Bugoye sub Counties who feared their names to be told, it is hard to for government to fight illegal poaching after it has failed to address wildlife and human conflicts in the districts that share the national parks.
They say that government has failed to support and compensate those losing crops and relatives in the park, yet it keeps on sensitizing them about the need to protect animals without uprooting the core reason people keeps being hostile to wildlife.
“I can’t lose almost seven acres of cotton due to elephants and I take my complaints to UWA but all I get is nothing and the next day I again find it crossing my garden and I leave it. I would rather poison it and, I hear it die,” local leader revealed.
Mahembe alleged that when UWA finds a poacher in a park, they can even kill him and won’t even tell the public where their body is. However, when an elephant encroaches on human spaces and destroys people’s crops, the wildlife management body does not want anyone to harm them.
“Attempts have been made before, including arresting, and killing some poachers in the park, but nothing has changed. People are still going to the park to poach animals for food/meat consumption and others have taken poaching as a family business. There are now some families that we know that if we want any kind of wildlife meat, skin or skull you have to consult them,” he said.
A cotton farmer, Robert Kule, says that after several years of seeing his crops being destroyed by wild animals without receiving any compensation from UWA, he also turned hostile towards wildlife whenever they crossed into their gardens.
“I lost all my capital in 2006 after I had invested all the money, I had into cotton farming targeting fair prices since it was an election year. But all my hopes were swept away by seven elephants which invaded my five-acre gardens and destroyed everything. Attempts to report to UWA were made but since no single compensation was given to me, that is why you see me the way I am now,” Kule said, sorrow written all-over his voice.
Kule added that after complaining to UWA for compensation in vain, a man from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) gave them tips on how to make rudimentary traps that could ensnare stubborn elephants.
“The traps were made from strong copper wires and were built by welding them with heavy metallic hooks,” Kule narrates.
On 30th March 2021, residents in Rutooke irrigation scheme in Muhokya Town Council in Kasese district, threatened to poison and kill rouge elephants that have been evading their crop gardens. https://rwenzoridaily.com/angry-farmers-in-kasese-threaten-to-poison-and-kill-rogue-elephants/
In western Uganda’s wildlife corridor, which contains Queen Elizabeth National Park, Rwenzori National Park, Kibale National Park, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Gorilla sanctuary and Lake Mburo National Park among others, Kihihi Sub County, Kitabu Sub County, Kilembe Sub County, Bugoye Sub County and Nyakiyumbu Sub County in Kanungu District are said to be the midpoints of poaching.
A Uganda wildlife trafficking assessment report released in 2018 named Uganda as one of the commonest transit points for wildlife products in the central and east African region, with poaching costing the country both in tourism revenue and illicit financial flows.
James Okware, the senior warden for Rwenzori Mountain National Park confirms that illegal poaching was high in the Rwenzori Mountain National Park more especially during this time of the pandemic.
Okware says that during this period of Covid-19 many cases of poaching have been registered from the areas of Bugoye and Kyarumba where ‘some poachers have been arrested and reprimanded. He said that Covid-19 has not only increased cases of parching but also has affected their operations after their budget.
Okware explains that at least every after one month, the park records the killing of 1-3 of wild animals, such as chimpanzees, baboons, bush pigs, duikers, hyrax and monkeys by community members.
He attributes this to extreme poverty levels among the local population who resort to encroaching into the national park for meat both for consumption and economic purposes.
He admits that the park is losing resources and tourism potentials because most of the wild species are endangered by illegal poachers.
Lasting Solution to the illegal wildlife
According to Okware, the government has undertaken many initiatives to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife resources.
These include boundary maintenance of national park to mitigate human wildlife conflict, institutionalization of the canine unit set up to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trade, continued community engagement through provision of technical, financial, and scholarly support to communities around the national park, as well as to end strangers accessing specify species in the protected areas.
He said the ministry of tourism and UWA are working together to set up barriers on the park boundaries consists of an electric fence that is 255 kilometres long, 8,850 beehives, boardwalks and supporting community with chili seedlings and other high value crops to plant on their garden boundaries for both scaring elephants and as well as for income generation.
Okware said creating awareness among the communities around the national parks about the importance and values of wildlife and capacity building in communities by employing some of them as scouts and whistle-blowers. He added that they are also giving a part of the revenue from tourism directly to communities to undertake projects that will improve their lives and dissuade them from poaching.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park has Africa’s third highest mountain peak. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site and is home to some of the endangered wildlife species in the country. They include the three-horned chameleons, one-horned chameleons, Rwenzori side-stripped chameleons and green viper snakes.
The others are mahogany trees, chimpanzees that are being hunted for meat and traditional medicines, and birds that include the Rwenzori double-collared sunbird, Blue-headed sunbird and Purple-breasted sunbird.