The National Strategy to Combat Illegal Trade and Trafficking of Wildlife and Wildlife Products 2020-2029 developed by The Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities with support from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and funded by the UK AID/Darwin DEFRA was launched during a gathering to commemorate World Wildlife Day at Sheraton Kampala Hotel on 4th March 2021.
The launch of this document is timely owing to an increase in the rate of poaching and forest destruction reported during the COVID-19 pandemic in Uganda. This is as a result of an abrupt migration of urban dwellers to rural areas, leading to an increase in chopping of forest trees for charcoal and poaching of small game for food and sale, conservationists who gathered for the ceremony in Kampala, revealed. “The number of poachers caught in the act tripled between March and June 2020,” said Uganda Wildlife Authority Executive Director, Sam Mwandha while addressing guests at the ceremony.
Poaching has been cited as a silent threat to tropical forests worldwide because large mammals help to disperse the seeds of large hardwood trees, when they eat and deposit them elsewhere in forests. If wild animals disappear, growth of larger carbon-absorbing trees is affected and forests are unable to sequester carbon from the air to prevent climate change.
According to Associate Professor, Dr. Robert Bitariho who was the keynote speaker at the ceremony, “Indigenous trees tend to store more carbon and release more oxygen compared to exotic trees. He recommended that Uganda follows the national standard for responsible management of forests in Uganda.” Uganda adapted the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Scheme in 2018 as a more suitable internationally recognized code of practice to ensure that forest products are responsibly managed to meet the social, economic and ecological needs of present and future generations.
In line with the international theme for World Wildlife Day; Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet and the Uganda national theme: Sustaining Livelihoods through conservation, Dr. Simon Nampindo pointed out the need for a multi-sectoral approach to address problems of conservation because all sectors are interlinked and the actions, policies and practices of one sector impact another. "We are witnessing crop failure because people are destroying bees by destroying their habitats particularly forests, yet bees pollinate crops resulting in food security. Forests are also habitats to pests (e.g. fungi, virus, bacteria, locusts) and diseases such as Ebola, Marburg fever, so if they are destroyed, diseases resort to attaching to humans and pests destroy crops. This spirals predator-prey dynamics where limited food leads to limited populations,” posited Dr. Nampindo.
In his remarks, the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Honorable Col. (retired) Tom Butime stressed that Uganda’s cash cow- tourism- is nature-based. “We need to develop a sustainable platform that uses conservation as a springboard for sustainable livelihoods. Forests play a sustainable role in sustainable development and national economic development in line with the sustainable development goals. Forests are habitats for wild animals and sustain much of Uganda’s tourism,” Hon. Butime noted.
At the same ceremony, The Resident Representative for United Nations Development Programme Uganda, Ms. Elsie Attafuah, also pointed out that this year’s theme on forests and livelihoods means a lot more than forests providing habitats for wildlife. Uganda forests cover more than eight percent of the country’s landscape and are home to over 80 percent of all terrestrial wild fauna and flora. “Forests supply 88 percent of all Uganda’s energy needs, generate 61 percent of the country’s tourism income and provide jobs for about one million people. They also provide vital ecosystems services and resources that are essential to the economy,” Attafuah said.