It seems that the Ugandan Parliament has seen through the motives of the new Uganda Wildlife Authority board and condemned them for trying to get at the funds held by UWA in its various accounts. I have written about the questionable actions of the board here, here, and here.
Hopefully this will put a welcome brake on the precipitous actions of the new Uganda Wildlife Authority board of directors. An article in today’s issue of The Monitor, titled MP’s Dismiss Otifiire’s Report on Wildlife Agency, opens with the line “MPs have said the sacking of the Executive Director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Mr Moses Mapesa, is part of a wider scheme by some members of the agency’s board and some top officials in the Tourism Ministry to swindle money.”
For people within the Wildlife Authority, it has been clear for a while that the ultimate target of the new board is the Wildlife Authority’s accounts, particularly money that has been set aside to create a trust fund to support the operations in the parks.
This attack on the part of the Minister of Trade, Tourism and Industry, General Kahinda Otifiire, and his appointee Dr. Muballe, comes at a time when the parks in Uganda are particularly vulnerable. Oil exploration is expanding in many of the national parks here, and a breakdown in the management of the Uganda Wildlife Authority would eliminate any last resistance to uncontrolled drilling in the parks.
Hopefully this ruling by the Members of Parliament will lead to the reappointment of Moses Mapesa and a strengthening of the power of the Uganda Wildlife Authority to resist attacks on the National Parks regardless of the source of those attacks.
Nobody really knows what effect oil drilling will have on wildlife in Uganda. Most of the national parks and other protected areas are slated for drilling, and much of the oil is being found in the Albertine Rift, one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. In Murchison Falls National Park, most of the current and proposed test wells are in the areas with the highest concentrations of wildlife and, while efforts are being made to gather some baseline data on the animals to measure impacts against, population numbers are estimates at best, and behavioral studies of the animals are limited or non-existent. If the natural heritage of this country is going to be protected, a lot more information needs to be gathered.
The researchers were specifically looking at the effects of noise disturbance from seismic testing in an 80 sq. km. study area. The method of seismic testing used by the oil companies involved setting dynamite charges below ground at 50 meter intervals along transects through the area. According to the report, “The sound level pressure of this type of seismic oil explorations reaches usually up to 210dB next to the explosion site. This is about 10,000 times louder than a jet aircraft flying by at 300 m altitude.” Yikes.
Learning a Lesson from Oil Development in Gabon
A rainforest is very different from a savanna, and the potential impacts of oil development go far beyond the noise created by seismic testing. However, there are aspects of this study that I believe are important to keep in mind as Uganda moves forward with its oil development. The reality is that animal behavior is complex and it is important to approach it in that way.
The researchers confirmed that not all animals will respond to impacts in the same way, so it is impossible to generalize whether or not an activity is having an impact on animal behavior based on observations of one or two species. They found that those animals with large home ranges (i.e. those that could move – like elephants and gorillas) did move (active avoidance), and those with more limited ranges (like duikers and monkeys) did not leave the areas where seismic testing was happening. This is important to consider when measuring impacts of oil development
Looking Deeper into the Subtleties of Animal Behavior
Avoidance of habitat is easy to measure. It is easy to say that before the blasting, elephants were found in the area and afterwards they weren’t. Even four months after the seismic blasts were finished, the apes and elephants had still not returned to their normal patterns (although they acknowledged a lack of solid information about “normal” migration patterns for these species).
The flip side of this is the ability to look at the animals that don’t move and say there isn’t an impact from oil activities because those animals have not left the site. Unfortunately, the researchers point out that if a species isn’t able to leave their home area, either due to biological characteristics or threat from others of their own species holding territories bordering of their own (as in the case of chimpanzees who sometimes kill intruders from a different clan), they might be subject to more stress even though it doesn’t result in moving out of the area. In order to determine these more subtle impacts, they recommend looking at factors such as changes in breeding success and physiological stress indicators such as hormone changes.
Recommendations for Wildlife Monitoring in Uganda
Based on this article as well as other sources, here are a few important things for the monitoring bodies to be looking at in terms of the impacts of oil development on wildlife that might not be getting attention yet:
Besides looking at large movement patterns out of an area, look at daily patterns to see if animals are shifting their activities from daytime to nighttime to avoid the periods when people are most active in the drilling sites.
When/if drilling activities move into areas near forests with chimpanzees, monitor for increased conflicts or mortality that might be caused by individuals getting forced into a rival’s territory.
For animals that don’t leave the area as oil activity increases, check for increased stress hormones or a decrease in breeding success.
Look for changes in communication between elephant family members. Much of their long-distance communication (sometimes over 10 kilometers) happens through the ground, so the vibrations from oil activities could interfere with elephants’ sub-sonic communication.
Uganda Needs More Data
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there is a serious lack of reliable data about the wildlife in the national parks here. It is unfortunate that many of the observations of behavior patterns are just being conducted now, after oil exploration has already started. There are many committed people who will do their best to gather baseline data, but frankly there just isn’t time to get solid data since it takes a number of years to account for annual changes in rainfall, cycles of breeding success, etc.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind, though, is that even with the best data in the world, Environmental Impact Assessments, monitoring protocols and environmental regulations are only as strong as the will to enforce them. Ultimately, none of it matters if the government cares more about the oil money than it does about protecting the environment the citizens depend on.
Image of Rothschild's Giraffe in Murchison Falls NP
The giraffe must be one of the unlikeliest animals on the planet. They are frequently cited as evidence that “God” or “nature” has a sense of humor.
They can be over 5 meters tall, weigh nearly two tons, and have a 45cm tongue that allows them to pluck tiny acacia leaves out from a fortress of thorns. They have the largest heart of any land mammal, along with specially valved arteries, providing the strong plumbing system needed to get blood all the way up to their towering heads.
Image: Young Rothschild's Giraffe, Murchison Falls NP
This means that nearly half of the remaining wild members of this endangered species call Murchison Falls National Park their home.
Endangered Giraffes and Oil
A listing on the IUCN Red List compels governments to try to help keep a species alive. Will this bring a more critical eye to the oil development that is rapidly expanding in some of the best habitat for these animals?
Giraffes are not subtle animals. If they are pushed out of the national parks, it’s not like they can hide out in small forest fragments tucked between villages. Their habitat needs are very specific, which is why their range and distribution are so limited, and why Murchison Falls is the only national park in Uganda where they exist in significant numbers.
The Role of National Parks
One of the main purposes of national parks is to preserve critical habitats for species that can’t survive in a mostly human-altered environment. Once a species becomes listed as endangered, it means that they are already feeling the pinch and that they could very well be heading for extinction if their remaining habitat is not protected.
Nobody knows yet how any of the animals in the parks will respond to increased oil activity. When I was at Murchison Falls two weeks ago, the place was crawling with survey crews driving off-track, cutting new tracks, laying cables across the roads, tying survey tape to trees, and filling up the ferry. There was a sense of bustle that is not consistent with my view of a national park experience, and this is just the survey crews.
Maybe the giraffes will look at the tall, spindly drilling rigs and see a distant cousin. Maybe they will feel more at home than ever. But maybe they will think it is time to move on. I hope not, because they really have nowhere else to go.
Last night in Kampala there was a forum held by NatureUganda about whether sports-hunting should be used as a wildlife management tool in Uganda. This is obviously a hot issue, with strong feelings on either side. I invite you to read this post, and then vote in the attached poll.
Speakers: Achilles Byaruhanga, Executive Director of NatureUganda
Sam Mwandha, Director Conservation, Uganda Wildlife Authority
Dr. Richard Lamprey, Technical Advisor, Flora and Fauna International
Philip Chollet, Owner, Karamojo Safaris LTD
Background: Sport hunting in Uganda is an activity that falls under “Wildlife Use Rights” in the Wildlife Act of 2000, as one of six ways that wildlife can be “used” to benefit people and the economy in general. After nearly 90% of the wildlife in the country was decimated in the 1970s under the Idi Amin regime, all hunting was made illegal to allow wildlife populations to recover. However, poaching continues to be rampant. The Wildlife Authority decided that the populations of some species had recovered enough that they instituted a pilot sport-hunting concession around Lake Mburu National Park in 2001 (it is important to note that no hunting will be allowed inside the national parks). The pilot period was subsequently extended twice, and finished in October 2009. The Uganda Wildlife Authority website states:
“The overall objective of granting WUR is to promote sustainable extractive utilization of wildlife by facilitating the involvement of landowners and users in managing wildlife on private land. The underpinning principles are that;
Sustainable extractive utilization of wildlife can provide cultural, customary, and socio-economic benefits at the local, district and national levels.
The consumption of wildlife resources could contribute significantly to food security and poverty reduction in rural areas.
Profit motive and leisure factors are important in encouraging private sector and community involvement in wildlife conservation and management.
Benefits accruing from WUR leads to better wildlife management and increase in animal populations in those areas where they have been depleted.”
The main arguments against sport hunting at this time are based on questions about whether the population sizes of the targeted species are actually viable, and whether the data the Wildlife Authority is using to set quotas is accurate. There are also concerns about the transparency of the concessions granting process and the oversight of the actual hunt.
Here are some highlights from each of the speakers:
Achilles Byaruhanga, Executive Director of NatureUganda
As the host of the evening, Achilles was primarily setting the stage for the discussion. He pointed out a number of concerns that he has with the current arrangements for sport hunting.
It seems that some of the quotas are not based on current population surveys.
What message is being sent to the local communities? They are still not allowed to hunt, but they will now see wealthy foreigners coming in to hunt. They may even come to believe that hunting, in general, is now allowed since they will see others hunting, and meat from wild game will be consumed openly in communities (after a kill, the meat is often given to the communities since the sport hunter primarily wants the horns or skin).
Uganda Wildlife Authority has very sparse staffing in the areas where these hunts will take place. Will they really be able to patrol these areas?
If the one of the main arguments for sport hunting is the livelihood benefits to the communities, how many animals will you have to kill at a price of $150 – $5,000 (depending on the species) to really have an impact on the communities?
The concessionaire signs a 24-month agreement, which allows them to immediately begin operations, but their management plans are not due until the end of the 24 months. This basically allows them to operate with no management plan for the duration of their concession.
Sam Mwandha, Director of Conservation, Uganda Wildlife Authority
The Uganda Wildlife Authority position is based on what they say are observed increases in wildlife numbers in the areas where hunting has been happening during the pilot phase. He started his talk by stating that for the sport hunting companies, “Their business isn’t sport hunting, their business is wildlife management.” Here are some other points from his talk:
There are five companies who have been given concessions in a total of 8 hunting blocks.
2% of a species’ total population is the maximum quota, and most of the quotas set in Uganda are below that threshold.
Hunters want trophies, so they focus on the old males, leaving the females and young males alone.
When they approve a permit to hunt a hippo or a leopard, they focus on “problem animals.” Only 5 leopards have been killed by sport hunters in the last 3 years.
The populations of hunted species are skyrocketing [note – he showed graphs that showed a more-than-tenfold increase in some species in five years. During the discussions afterwards, many people expressed doubts about the numbers.]
The income local communities have derived through sport hunting has improved local attitudes towards wildlife, which has reduced the amount of poaching.
He confirmed that the hunting companies can operate for 24 months without a plan, but that it would not make good business sense for them to do that since they rely on healthy animal populations.
Communities can benefit a lot financially from sport hunting. The permit fee (ranging from $150 – $5,000 depending on the animal) is divided up as follows: 45% to the community wildlife association (for development projects), 30% to landowner, 15% to Uganda Wildlife Authority, 5% to local government, 5% to community protected-area institution. [note – the Uganda Wildlife Authority gets most of its income through selling the actual concession for the hunting block to the outfitter]
Dr. Richard Lamprey, Technical Advisor, Flora and Fauna International
Richard Lamprey has been involved in parks management in many parts of Africa and has been involved in decision-making around sport-hunting in Tanzania. His talk was the most balanced of the evening, and I honestly couldn’t have told you at the end whether he is for or against sport hunting in Uganda.
He started his talk by saying that to truly get involved with this debate, you need to begin to understand the mentality of the dedicated sport hunter, who is passionately dedicated to the hunt and who will willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars to do it (currently a 7-day hunt for sitatunga in the Ssesse Islands of Uganda costs about $20,000).
Here are some of the points he made:
Sport hunting can bring a huge amount of money into a country. The “Daily Rate” that a hunter here pays is about $1,000 on top of permit fees, lodging, transportation, etc.
In Tanzania, one study showed that 600 hunters per year bring the same amount of money into the country as 200,000 game viewers (people who go on a non-hunting safari). That is a lot of money that can be used for wildlife management. [and possibly a lower overall impact on wildlife given the smaller numbers]
The idea behind all “Wildlife Use Rights” is to put a value on wildlife. If local villagers can earn significant revenue by supporting sport hunting, they will want wildlife numbers to increase and will be less likely to allow poaching on their lands.
Hunting companies pay $10,000 – $30,000 for each “hunting block” per year depending on the country. Tanzania has about 120 of these blocks, so it is a significant source of income.
There are very few studies in Africa showing a change in animal populations (up or down) due to sport hunting because very little data is available.
For communities to really benefit from sport hunting, they need strong, transparent community institutions to reduce the possibility of corruption.
Because there is so much money to be made in the sport hunting industry, there is huge competition for hunting blocks and, thus, strong possibility for higher-level corruption between outfitters and authorities.
There is not the strong control over illegal hunting practices (hunting from a car, baiting, using dogs, hunting with a spotlight at night, etc) that was in place in the early days of African big-game hunting.
There is a lot of incentive for hunting companies to engage in illegal hunting practices. If your client payed $20,000 to kill a sitatunga and didn’t get one, will he come back to you next year?
The block rates that go directly to Uganda Wildlife Authority have the potential to be a very important source of revenue to fund their park management operations (the parks currently operate at a loss)
There are already some signs of possible corruption. One active outfitter that currently holds 3 of the 8 hunting blocks was removed from operations in the early 2000s for taking hunters into a national park. Also, in a review of contracts that went through PPDA (Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority), 60% were found to be flawed. As wildlife are a public asset in Uganda, it is my understanding that this is the body that is ultimately responsible for approving concessions.
All quotas need to be made public, since wildlife is a public asset.
The Wildlife Authority can use on-line tools to help monitor illegal activities. There are “Hunt Report” websites where sport hunters post accounts of their trips to Africa and other parts of the world. They will often mention in their reports if their guides did anything (even illegal things) to help insure a “good hunt.”
Philip Chollet, Owner, Karamojo Safaris LTD.
With Filip’s talk, we were able to get a glimpse of the passion of the hunter that Dr. Lamprey referred to. He started his slide presentation with images of an eland that was wounded by poachers. Clearly, his main thrust was to emphasize that sport hunting can reduce poaching. Here are some of his points:
With no animals there are no hunters. With no hunters, there are no animals. Hunters are strong advocates for conservation because they want to be able to continue to hunt.
If nobody “owns” the wildlife or if they don’t benefit from it, they will kill it. [tragedy of the commons]
If one hunter comes to an area for 2 weeks and kills one buffalo, the local communities get 4 million shillings (about $2,000) through their share of the permit, the hiring of trackers, porters, etc. By contrast, when an eco-tourist comes to one of the game parks on safari, the local communities get almost nothing.
If the communities keep benefitting from sport hunting, will they allow poachers to continue?
Wildlife is a commodity.
Ecosystems are not self-regulating and the only way to control animal populations is for hunters to kill them. [hmmmm…]
In one of their hunting concessions, the Pian-Upe game reserve, you will find illegal snares every 500 meters. When sport hunters are out every day they can patrol for and remove snares and, again, if the communities are benefitting they will also put pressure on the poachers to stop.
There was a lot of discussion around whether the survey numbers that Uganda Wildlife Authority was using are accurate. It doesn’t seem possible that impala numbers could increase from 5,000 to 35,000 in less than ten years. Aggrey Rwetsiba, Director of Research for UWA, admitted that they had switched survey methods between the earlier and later numbers and that animal population counts are very difficult to do accurately.
If 30% of the permit fee goes to the landowner where the animal was killed, and most people are too impoverished to own land, it is a fair distribution of the revenue?
The owner of a lodge in Lake Mburu National Park pointed out that the quotas are based on total populations in the area, both inside and outside the park, while hunting is only allowed outside the park. He argued that the quotas should only be based on the average populations outside the park since that’s where the hunting takes place.
The same lodge owner claimed that there have already been impacts on game viewing opportunities in the parks. In Lake Mburu NP he has observed that the eland herds have become more skittish, as they have nearly all been shot at at some point. This could have a serious impact on eco-tourism, which is still the primary form of tourism in the country.
There were also questions about whether ecotourism and sport hunting are compatible. In general, eco-tourists don’t want to be in a place where animals are being shot.
Inconclusion (yes, I meant to spell it like that):
Sport hunting has the potential to increase livelihoods in communities around protected areas, fund the wildlife management activities of the Wildlife Authority, and reduce poaching which could result in increased wildlife populations. At the same time, it is unclear whether the animal populations here are ready for hunting, there is a lack of trust in government institutions to manage the process in a legal and transparent way, and there are concerns about the impacts of sport hunting on other forms of tourism.
There was virtually no discussion about whether hunting is “right” or “wrong,” which is perhaps not surprising in an African context. Hunting is being used as one component of wildlife management around the world (think about deer permits in the U.S.), and it does have the potential to bring far more money into local communities than game viewing.