Join the UCF team in tackling wildlife crime in Uganda
By Anne-Marie Weeden
It was only a few days into the job and my phone rang early on a Saturday morning. It was a friend, calling from Queen’s Track in Murchison Falls National Park, where he was enjoying a game drive with his family. “I’m calling with regard to your new role” he said, “there’s a young male buffalo with a snare injury – the snare’s stuck around his neck and it’s cutting into his flesh.”
Seeing wildlife injured by poaching in Uganda’s parks is a harsh, visual reminder of the threat of wildlife crime. I’d recently started as the General Manager of Uganda Conservation Foundation (UCF) and after spending time with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) team earlier that week, had become painfully aware of the daily challenges faced in protecting Uganda’s wildlife. The illegal wildlife trade is as much a threat to Uganda’s natural heritage as it is anywhere across Africa.
“Pioneering technologies for law enforcement”
UCF was established in 2001, with the objective of recovering this country’s key wildlife habitats. Uganda used to be home to the highest density of mega-herbivores per square km anywhere in Africa – and we believe it could be once again.
Our focus has been on providing practical solutions to conservation problems and we work closely with the UWA and park-adjacent communities to do so. Our operations extend across Murchison Falls, Kibale and Queen Elizabeth National Parks, as well as the Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve. Soon, we will be commencing operations in Kidepo Valley National Park.
In communities bordering parks, we help address human-wildlife conflict issues, support conservation education and promote livelihoods. Inside the parks, the focus has been on strengthening conservation infrastructure and growing anti-poaching capabilities, as well as pioneering new technologies for law enforcement.
The WILD LEO project, for example, applies insights from criminology to map wildlife crime in Uganda, with rangers collecting and analysing geo-tagged photo evidence from ‘crime scenes’. In areas where WILD LEO operates, conviction rates have increased to 97%, supported by intelligence-led ranger deployment. In parallel, we have completed DNA profiling of elephant dung across Uganda, creating a database that INTERPOL and other authorities can use in ivory seizures across the world – vital in identifying trafficking routes and strengthening cases for prosecution.
“Veterinary capability is a vital component”
Part of the model for conservation in Uganda will be an improved veterinary capability in Uganda’s Protected Areas. A vital component of any wildlife management system, the vet service is increasingly important in tackling wildlife crime, with the rise in snare injuries and growing significance of forensic intelligence.development of satellite vet teams in other parks, elevating veterinary capability across Uganda. And eventually, instead of calling me, there will be a hotline for park visitors to call if they spot an animal in distress.
So, as I listened to my friend that Saturday morning, describing the exact spot where he had spotted the wounded buffalo, veterinary support was top of mind. As soon as he hung up, I called Dr. Eric Enyel, the Senior Wildlife Veterinary Officer in Murchison. Later that week, I received an update – the team had found the buffalo, treated the wound and removed the snare. The bull would survive.
Three years ago, that may not have been the case. It used to take up to 3 weeks to respond to animals injured by snares – now it takes less than 24 hrs, greatly increasing survival rates. The difference? In 2012 UCF and private sector sponsors created the first ever UWA Vet Response Unit by refurbishing a broken down Landcruiser and providing the necessary drugs and equipment.
Since then, the UWA Vet Response Unit has attended to injured elephant, giraffe, lion, warthog, buffalo, hyena and rhino. It has helped UCF conduct vital medical research on the critically endangered Rothschild’s giraffe, supervised the safe translocation of zebra and impala, transported poaching suspects to court, assisted in emergency ranger deployments and supervised animal control incidents in communities. Whilst ostensibly covering the ‘mere’ 5,000km2 of Murchison Falls National Park, it has also served many different areas in Uganda – from Kidepo Valley and Lake Mburo National Park, to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve.
“A little private sector teamwork”
Three years of this sort of work takes its toll on a vehicle. So a couple of months ago, the UWA Vet Response Unit vehicle was once again in the hands of the expert team in the Toyota Uganda workshops on First Street, undergoing a complete engine overhaul, suspension work, bodywork repairs and a re-spray. It was officially handed back to the UWA on Friday 22nd May, and is now back doing what it does best – saving and protecting Uganda’s wildlife.
A working UWA Vet Response Unit represents a major step forward in the wildlife veterinary capability of Uganda. And it would not have been possible without generous, in-kind sponsorship from Toyota Uganda and Sadolin Paints – it’s amazing what a little private sector teamwork can accomplish!
Within the next six months, we have plans to have a fully fledged veterinary laboratory and office operating within Murchison Falls National Park, offering a permanent ‘centre for excellence’ for wildlife veterinary science and education in Uganda. We hope in time, this will lead to the development of satellite vet teams in other parks, elevating veterinary capability across Uganda. And eventually, instead of calling me, there will be a hotline for park visitors to call if they spot an animal in distress.
“The time for words has long gone”
Ultimately, with greater funding and the right private sector support, all aspects of conservation in Uganda – from tackling wildlife crime to community education to veterinary – could go from strength to strength.
But there is no time to waste. UCF Founder and Trustee Michael Keigwin recently attended a gala dinner at Windsor Castle in honour of the 25th anniversary of one of our most loyal donors, TUSK TRUST. On the night, their patron Prince William spoke passionately about the rise in illegal wildlife trade, saying, “With the illegal trade on the rise, our response to it must rapidly evolve. The time for words has long gone – we must see action, and we must do so with urgency. ”
As citizens and residents of Uganda, I believe it is our responsibility to help safeguard the country’s wildlife for future generations. The decline of Uganda’s natural heritage would be catastrophic from a conservation perspective, but would also irrevocably damage tourism, the country’s major foreign exchange earner. With your support, UCF are taking action. It is clear from the story of the UWA Vet Response Unit, it is possible to use a little teamwork to make a big difference. And that’s just what we’re doing – one snared buffalo at a time.
If you want to ‘join the team’ to make a difference, there are many ways to get involved:
- Offer sponsorship in kind – we need help with container conversions, ranger post construction, print production and anything in between!
- Become a Fundraising Partner by introducing a revenue-sharing scheme to collect donations on our behalf. For example, a safari lodge can add a dollar per person per night to their guests’ bills or a restaurant could remit 10% of the revenue from a certain dish on their menu – raising vital funds for conservation.
- Become a UCF Corporate Member – Membership starts at just $200 per annum.
- Come along to our monthly Dinner Quiz (every third Wednesday) at Dancing Cup in Bugolobi – entry is 35,000 Ush per person inclusive of some delicious pub grub!
- Join us at the infamous Starlight Safari Ball on Sat 12th September – our annual knees-up and fundraiser.
- Set up a regular donation via our JustGiving or Virgin MoneyGiving pages, or by bank transfer on request.