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Wildlife not reducing, but endangered – UWA boss

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has refuted claims in the Auditor General’s report that the wildlife population is on the decline, although the body admits that human activity in wildlife habitats has taken its toll on the natural resource. UWA’s Executive Director Dr Andrew Seguya told journalists last week that an article published in Daily Monitor on Tuesday, April 10, titled: ‘Ostriches, lions and zebras face extinction’, orchestrated out of the Auditor General’s report, had errors and did not depict the exact situation as far as wildlife populations in protected areas are concerned.

“Overall, the general trend for most wildlife species in Uganda shows a positive growth over the years particularly from the 1980s to present,” Seguya said.

UWA is a statutory body mandated to protect and conserve the country’s flora and fauna. The office of the Auditor General (AG) conducted a value for money audit on the Authority in 2011. Seguya told journalists at a press conference at the Uganda Media Centre last Tuesday that although the wildlife populations are yet to reach the levels of the 1960s and early 1970s, UWA’s statistics indicate that the buffalo population, for example, increased from 21,565 between 2007 and 2010 to 21,639 last year.

This number, though, is still far below 60,000 (the buffalo population in the 1960s) and 30,308 (between 2004 and 2006), but Seguya says this indicates a positive growth. The population of waterbucks also increased from 12,925 between 2007 and 2010, to 13,128 in 2011 — above the 10,000 waterbucks registered in the 1960s.

Giraffes, whose population had shrunk from 2,500 in the 1960s to 259 between 2004 and 2006, currently stand at 984, while the population of Uganda kobs remains stable from 54,861 in 2010 to 54,080 last year. Daily Monitor had reported that the wildlife population was on the decline, with lions in Queen Elizabeth national park being the most affected (reduction in population by 81 percent), followed by ostriches (79 percent), zebras (74 percent) and Uganda kobs (69 percent), among others. Murchison Falls national park alone was reported to have lost 25 elephants last year, but Seguya clarified that the figure was for elephants throughout the country — in all national parks.

“The figure of 25 is for the whole country, which, although higher than was previously recorded since the early 90s, is still lower than what our neighbouring elephant range states are losing through poaching per year,” Seguya said.

He attributed the increase in elephant poaching in all elephant range states in Africa to the “down-listing” of elephants in southern African countries (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe) by the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Qatar in 2010 and the lifting of the international ban on ivory trade from those countries whose elephant populations were down listed from CITES Appendix I to CITES Appendix II.

“Lifting of this ban for southern African countries triggered increased ivory demand, especially in Asia, which most probably caused increased elephant poaching not only in Uganda but on the whole continent,” Seguya said.

“UWA has worked and continues to work with police, UPDF, Customs and the judiciary to curtail ivory trade in Uganda that is the cause of elephant poaching, by arresting and successfully prosecuting ivory traffickers. As a result, we have not registered any incident of elephant poaching in the parks since November 2011,” he added.

Seguya also refuted claims that lions in Queen Elizabeth national park have reduced by 81%.

“This is not true. The lion population in Queen Elizabeth national park has reduced by about 50% from approximately 400 in the 1980s to the current estimate of 200. Most of these lions have been radio collared for monitoring by UWA in partnership with the Uganda Large Predator project and Wildlife Conservation Society, so it is very easy to ascertain their population.”

Seguya said the most significant reduction in lions in Queen Elizabeth national park was registered during the Basongora invasion of the park in 2007 when cattle keepers poisoned more than 30 lions in a space of five months. Besides occasional incidents of lion poisoning by pastoralists, he added, the other factor responsible for the low numbers is the high infant mortality that is a natural phenomenon with most predator populations in an ecosystem, as well as disease.

“There is still plenty of prey in Queen Elizabeth National Park for lions,” he said.

Seguya also noted that the recent change in land use — from fishing to cattle keeping by some residents of fishing villages inside the national park — is another major threat to lion populations. Over time, communities around the Kazinga Channel and Lake Katwe are now keeping cattle, in addition to fishing, creating conflict between wildlife and human beings — lions naturally prey on the cattle and, in response, cattle keepers try to kill the lions.

Furthermore, human population growth continues to have its stall on wildlife habitats. People living near wildlife reserves such as Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori, Mt Elgon and East Madi national parks are increasingly encroaching on wildlife reserves, particularly forests, bush land and wetlands.

“What used to be corridors for wildlife dispersal and migration in the 60s to 80s have since been settled in by people,” Seguya said.


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