By Gerald Tenywa
UNKNOWN prospectors have invaded Kalinzu Forest Reserve in Bushenyi district, threatening to deplete Prunus Africana, an endangered tree used in the treatment of prostate cancer.
The tree is locally called Omugoote or entasesa.
While some foresters suspect that it could be local herbalists who are stripping the trees, other sources believe traffickers, who export the bark, were to blame.
Mildred Nafuna of the National Forestry Authority (NFA) said removal of the bark kills the trees because they lose the capacity to feed themselves.
Nafuna said an unspecified number of trees had been destroyed and checking the malpractice was not easy because the invaders sneaked into the forest at night.
She said the nearby Kasyoha Kitomi Forest Reserve had suffered a similar problem when forest department officials connived with trafficking rackets that had links with exporters about five years ago.
However, the rackets were burst and the illegal extraction of the bark in the area stopped until recently when the prospectors begun operating in Kalinzu.
Gaster Kiyingi, the NFA spokesperson, said the tree was highly demanded by large pharmaceutical companies for commercial exploitation in the Western countries.
Sources in research institutions said Prunus Africana was sustainably harvested widely in other countries, especially Cameroon, for export to the Western countries.
Kiyingi said the tree was listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna (CITES) as an endangered tree.
The authorised trade in Prunus Africa is restricted under CITES and is sanctioned after clearance by the country of origin and recipient country.
Research in Uganda indicates that it occurs in parts of central and western Uganda, but the contents of the bark from trees growing in western Uganda were superior.
Under CITES, Prunus Africana is listed on Appendix Two, meaning that it would become extinct if commercial exploitation is not controlled.
Some of the habitats of Prunus Africana are also under intense encroachment and conversion into timber.
Kalinzu forest that is part of the Albertine Rift Valley (an important conservation area in Africa) is also home to globally endangered primates such as chimpanzees.