Wild animals have been trapped in a wave of land use change around Lake Mburo National Park in western Uganda. A bigger part of what used to be a game park is now in the hands of the rich and powerful. Conservationists want to give the land owners more benefits from tourism to entice them to retain
By GERALD TENYWA
Wild animals have been trapped in a wave of land use change around Lake Mburo National Park in western Uganda. A bigger part of what used to be a game park is now in the hands of the rich and powerful. Conservationists want to give the land owners more benefits from tourism to entice them to retain wild animals on their land.
SMALL is beautiful, goes a saying. This is true with Lake Mburo National Park, the second smallest national park in Uganda. It houses 68 species of mammals and 310 species of birds, including the globally sought after shoebill. Lake Mburo, a haven which waters thousands of cattle in the dry season, is now under attack from the people it neighbours. In the last three decades, the park has reduced from 1,500sqkms to 260sqkms.
Competing land use activities like cattle rearing, farming and settlement have been blamed for the decrease in size. As a result, wildlife that used to roam on the expansive landscape is now left on the tiny piece of land, which could lead to inbreeding and extinction of species.
“We have a diversity of animals, but they are under threat of inbreeding with their close relatives,” says Justus Tusubira, the national park’s conservation manager. He explains that to keep a healthy population, the animals need to mate with those on private land. “When people constrain the movement of animals from the park to their land, they undermine the survival of animals and long-term conservation. At the moment, the conflict between human and wildlife has escalated,” Tusubira says.
Acacia hockii, the weed in the park
DISTRICT LEADERS SUPPORT NEW PROGRAMME
They have their work cut out for them. “What can we do to wildlife on private land?” asked Kaddu at a meeting organised for private land owners, wildlife managers and politicians at the launch of the four-year programme. He added: “What can tourism do to conserve the animals outside the park?” Kaddu said individuals with large tracts of land could establish a ‘private wildlife reserve’ that could benefit them better through tourism.
The benefits are enhanced with the construction of an eco-lodge for the community, where they get employment and also a bigger revenue stream than what is obtained from the revenue-sharing scheme from Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). A decade ago, UWA started sharing revenue with communities neighbouring the park. The community is entitled to 20% of the gate collections.
Last year, those around Lake Mburo National Park got up to sh280m. In addition to revenue sharing, Tusubira says they are designing strategies to resolve the conflict between the human population and the wild animals. He cited sport hunting as another userright that is permitted in the Wildlife Act. A decade ago, ranchers formed Rurambira community wildlife association to benefit more from sport hunters who pay a lot of money to hunt aged animals. However, animals are increasing faster than the hunting quotas, currently estimated at about 100 every year.
Sport hunting is the removal of excess animals by regulated hunters who pay a premium to shoot down the aged ones, also referred to as trophies. Previously, politicians had negative attitude, but this is now changing. Catherine Kamwine, the deputy resident district commissioner for Mbarara, says: “I would rather protect my garden, where I earn a living, than let wild animals graze on my land.” “This programme will cure the problem. People have not been benefitting from the wild animals directly,” says Kamwine.
Impalas in the national park. The park used to be a corridor for large mammals that would sometimes move to northern Tanzania
OPPOSITION TO WILDLIFE CONSERVATION
About 10kms away from the borders of the park, Sam Tiimwe, who owns 120 acres of land near Sanga in Kiruhura district, says the land owners are losing much more than they are gaining from the park. “Cattle are dying every day because of diseases contracted from wild animals,” he says.
“When our animals cross into the park they are impounded.” He added: “About 30 zebras graze on my land. They eat the pasture and destroy watering holes for the animals and fences. They also consume salt licks and bring ticks.” As a way out of this, Tiimwe says, the park should be fenced off because it has brought suffering to the pastoralists.
But herdsmen with less than 10 acres, who graze and keep as many as 300 head of cattle, are standing in his way. “Such herdsmen do not have land to graze their animals and keep straying into the park. They do not want the park to be fenced off.”
Lions are back
LAKE MBURO’S TOURISM TO PAY FOR CONSERVATION
While conservationists are banking on tourism to secure land for conservation of wild animals, the tourism earnings are still low. “The number of tourists seems encouraging, but most of them are students in transit,” says Charles Atuhe, a programme officer at the park. Even if the number of tourists in the park has doubled in the last decade, the revenue generated is still inadequate.
With the teaming up of the US Agency for International Development and AWF in partnership with UWA, more investment into tourism is expected. As revenue increases, bigger incentives are likely to convince land-owners to accept wildlife conservation on their land. In the long-term, wild animals could turn into money spinners and recover their homeland that is being taken over by cattle.
The glorious old days, when large herds of wild animals harmoniously shared grazing grounds with cattle, could return .
Park at a glance
• The park is a compact gem located close to the highway, that connects Kampala to western Uganda.
• It is the smallest of Uganda’s savannah national parks, underlain by ancient precambrian metamorphic rocks, which date back more than 500 million years.
• It is home to 350 bird species as well as zebra, impala, eland,buffalo, oribi, defassa waterbuck, leopard, hippo, hyena, topi and reedbuck.
• Together with 13 other lakes in the area, Lake Mburo forms part of a 50km-long wetland system linked by a swamp. Five of these lakes lie within the park’s borders.
• Once covered by open savanna, the park contains much woodland as there are no elephants to tame the vegetation.
• In the western part of the park, the savanna is interspersed with rocky ridges and forested gorges, while patches of papyrus swamp and narrow bands of lush riparian woodland line many lakes.
Rearing lions, zebras could save L. Mburo