Tuesday, October 2, 2007


In that dead gorilla there’s a $3m fortune
October 2, 2007
I remember back then, during our good old school days the wildlife conservation movement was a very visible aspect of our country.

Almost all schools from primary to universities had well established wildlife clubs , where each member paid a token fee that went to the conservation effort. These small clubs formed the foundation for a national wildlife movement that not only taught the young generation what all it is about our wildlife- but also the importance of conserving nature with all it attendant benefits.

Sadly, today, this mighty movement is in deep slumber. Veteran activists are sunk in gloom –resigned to the back seat as our wildlife slides into absurdity. So what’s the cause of the wildlife crack-up? The obvious cause for this is the government’s flouting of the law and its failure to put in place a well articulated policy on environment conservation and wildlife protection. The government has both quietly and publicly encouraged or condoned illegal activity in the national protected areas like Mabira and Queen Elizabeth National Park where hundreds of herdsmen continue to occupy a wildlife sanctuary.

This ineptitude can perhaps explain why government kept silent while the rest of the world was mourning the brutal killing of three female mountain gorillas and one male silverback gorilla in the Virunga National Park along the Uganda-DR Congo border.

The gorillas were members of a group known as Rugendo. One of the surviving members of the group, the 5-month old baby Ndezi (whose mother Safari was killed), is now in quarantine and being cared for by the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project in Goma. The infant is still too young to survive alone in the wild habitat.

In January this year two mountain gorillas were killed in the same park. The skin of one gorilla was recovered from a latrine in a nearby rebel camp. The perpetrators of the killings were believed to be supporters of Laurent Nkunda, the leader of a new Congolese rebel group operating in the area. Just two months ago the country celebrated the increase of the gorilla population in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, a tourism resource that every Ugandan must work to protect.

Uganda is fortunate to be one of the three countries in the world that provide habitat to majority of 700 mountain gorillas surviving in the wild habitats today. These creatures which share a common ancestry with humans after chimpanzees live in the afromontane forest habitat that straddles the shared borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC. For such a small population the unnecessary and indiscriminate killing of seven mountain gorillas since the year began amounts to a massacre.

Gorillas are by no means the only regional tourist attraction. A wealth of stunning wildlife, breathtaking scenery, challenging hikes and fascinating culture are, in themselves, persuasive arguments for visiting the region, especially the famous Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in the Kanungu border district.

According to the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) – a coalition of the Fauna & Flora International, African Wildlife Foundation and the World Wide Fund for Nature- the annual revenue earned directly from gorilla tourism is estimated at $3 million.

When combined with the additional income received by, for example, hotels and restaurants, the total figure may exceed $20 million shared between Uganda , Rwanda, and DR Congo.

Therefore the long-term success of gorilla tourism hinges on the enthusiasm and commitment of government and the local communities around the parks to protect these animals.

Although Ugandan decision makers, especially President Museveni, are forever caught in a dilemma when it comes to regional security given the fragile foreign relations with our neighbours in DRC, the government must still find mechanisms that will compel ragtag militias operating along the common border to desist from killing mountain gorillas.

The Wildlife Act mandates government and its implementing agency – the Uganda Wildlife Authority to manage our national parks, protect and promote conservation of the country’s wildlife for the benefit of all the people of Uganda.
The write is a journalist and advocate
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