Hot off the press is our report on the Hippo Survey of Queen Elizabeth Protected Area

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Hot off the press is our report on the Hippo Survey of Queen Elizabeth, all the more poignant this year for its ability to help monitor the current Anthrax outbreak that has so far resulted in the deaths of 82 hippos.

One of the greatest attractions in Queen Elizabeth Protected Area are hippo. Whether in the Ishasha River or the Kazinga Channel, hippo have always dominated the waterways of QEPA. At one time, QEPA – an area of almost 2000 km2 - had more mega herbivores per km2 than anywhere else in Africa. In the 1960s, the number was so high that they had turned grasslands to dust, and a cull was carried out to recover the habitat for all species.

During the 1970s and 1980s, severe poaching decimated wildlife numbers. Much improved park management and protection of key note species such as the elephant have helped greatly, but today killing hippos for meat remains the most frequent form of poaching. The frequency and impact of poaching is easy to see, with many of QE’s rivers and hippo pools noticeably empty.

In May 2006 the hippo was finally identified as a vulnerable species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, with an estimated global population of between 125,000 and 150,000 - a decline of between 7% and 20% since the IUCN's previous study in 1996. The hippo, like other mega herbivores, is key to shaping the habitat that many other species depend on.

The UCF-funded boat, based at Mweya, has been helping in the clean-up operation following the recent Anthrax outbreak. This is one of the four UCF-funded Waterways project boats in QE.

Over the past 100 years outbreaks of anthrax have also occurred in QE, with 300 hippo dying in 2004. This, combined with the above factors, continues to make the hippo population vulnerable.

Comment from UCF

The UCF /Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) survey involved three weeks of sometimes risky work across very difficult terrain: of uncharted swamps, fast-flowing rivers and turbulent lakes, all while on the look-out for hippo, a mammal responsible for more deaths across Africa annually than any other.

The survey team noted that hippo are very wary of humans where there is illegal fishing, highlighting the fact that poachers have been killing and smuggling hippo meat via boat.  On the rivers, hippo tend to congregate in safe havens such as ranger camps. Far from the camps, they are easily scared, jumping out of the river when the team approached, an indication that man is an enemy to them.

A school of hippos in the Ishasha River in southern Queen Elizabeth National Park, bordering the DRC.

This survey engages a number of UCF projects including the Waterways Project which in QEPA comprises four Marine Ranger Stations, each equipped with power boats and all of the necessary equipment, and accredited training programme for 30 Marine Rangers as coxswains and 6 as trainers, giving UWA the capacity to tackle illegal activity on the lake and the wide expanse of lakes and rivers criss-crossing the Protected Area. Based on the data collected in the survey, UWA can now focus ranger patrolling against poachers even more accurately.

The value of this biannual survey, kindly supported by the SeaWorld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, is that it underpins UWA’s ability to protect and manage hippo and other species; fisheries; the economy and sustainable development of the local fishing villages; the habitat for all species; and develop the working relationship between the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the local communities.

To obtain a full copy of the report, click here to download

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Text E for elephant

Text messages help to stop crop raiding elephant and save families' crops and the elephant's life.

Kimani, a 5 tonne african bull elephant, has a soft spot for villagers' crops in the Ol Pejetia Conservancy, Kenya. At harvest time on the neighbouring village farms he has helped himself to a free takeaway bringing him into conflict with the aggrieved and frightened farmers, who were threatening to take the law into their own hands.

This kind of incident can seriously undermine the efforts of conservationists to persuade local communities that it is in their long term interests to live side by side with elephants. No amount of community development can compensate for the devastating loss of livelihood. In one night 15 hungry families once saw their entire harvest wiped out in a single crop raiding incident.

In a desperate bid to save him, Save the Elephants decided to use him as a guinea pig to test a portable early warning system. They fitted him with a collar in which they inserted a mobile phone sim card. Then they used a Global Positioning System to set up a virtual fence around the perimeter of the conservancy.
Whenever Kimani strays beyond the invisible barrier he triggers an automated text message which alerts the  conservancy HQ. A lone ranger then sets out in a jeep to intercept the elephant and herd him back towards the conservancy.

Whilst still at the embryonic stage there are signs of success for this trial. Crop raiding has diminished appreciably as although he was apprehended on numerous occasions in the early stages of the trial, Kimani has not reoffended for several months. His improved behaviour has also influenced other members of the group with the result that villagers who previously had to resort to banging their pots and pans all night to ward off raiding elephants can now sleep soundly.

In the words of a villager who once had to fight off a hungry elephant with a burning stick "We can live together. Elephants have the right to live and we have the right to live too."

( Extract of article by Tim Knight, Fauna & Flora, October 2009

Comment: UCF works with the Uganda Wildlife Authority and communities in Uganda to help alleviate animal crop raiding  in a number of its projects.  In addition to saving harvests for families, the projects have helped to reduce illness through men no longer having to guard their fields at night and to improve school attendance through children not having to patrol the fields in the daytime.

You can help this work by donating funds for this work by clicking here.

Elephants, lions snared every week

Each week, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has to rescue an elephant or lion from a wire snare. The snares, set up by poachers, are fixed on fences or trees to trap the animals.

According to Sam Mwanda, UWA's Director of Conservation, poaching is common in Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls national parks. 'We have been called every week to remove snares from animals in the two parks', he said. Mwanda said it is necessary to engage the communities more and provide incentives that are better than the proceeds from poaching.

Apart from game meat consumed by hunters Kampala, Gulu, Masindi and Kasese are thought to be the main outlets for the bush meat trade.

(Extract of article by Gerald Tenywa, New Vision, 10th September 2009 
Full article can be read online by clicking here)

Comment: UCF works with UWA to combat poaching and the illegal bush meat trade in a number of its projects. Several boat stations have now been built and equipped for the use of the UWA  wildlife rangers. Moving by boat the rangers are able to access and patrol larger areas more easily than in the past. UCF is currently constructing a new boat station and ranger accommodation on the northern shore of Lake George to continue this work. You can help by donating funds for this work by clicking here.

New Ramsar wetland site

A new Ramsar wetland site has been declared in the Rwenzori Mountains, home to some of the last glaciers in Africa and a wealth of endemic species.

The site covers 99,500 hectares of this mountainous region in western Uganda. It earned its Ramsar designation for the wetland bogs that support plant and animal life; the dozens of endemic threatened and restricted-range species, such as Rwenzori duiker and Rwenzori otter shrew, that live there; and the integral role played by many of the vulnerable species in maintaining the local biodiversity.

The Rwenzoris are one of only three places in Africa that have high-altitude wetlands (the others are Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro), and they act as a natural water tower for the Nile basin. 'They are very important for the ecology and hydrology of the region,' says Paul Mafabi, Commissioner for Wetlands and the Ramsar Administrative Authority. 'In particular they supply water to Lake George, Ugandas first Ramsar site, which has one of the highest fish diversities in Africa.'

( Africa Geographic, August 2009 )

Protected areas will not be affected by oil activities

Moses Mapesa, Executive Director of Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), seeks to allay fears that the discovery of oil and gas in protected areas will lead to the closure of these areas to the detriment of the wildlife or tourism.

In the past two years there has been debate on whether the activities surrounding the discovery of oil and gas in the Lake Albert, Murchison Falls and Lake Edward areas would lead to the degazzetment of Conservation Areas and the migration of wildlfife. Recently rumours spread that part of the Murchison Falls National Park would be closed to tourism following proposed further oil exploration. Moses Mapesa states that 'there will be no degazzettment of any protected area or any part of it because of oil exploration or production and there will not be any disruption of tourism activities. No protected area or part of a protected area will be closed and no animal has migrated or is likely to migrate because of oil activities per se'.

A study commissioned to assess whether oil exploration and ultimately production can be undertaken alongside nature conservation and to address any aspects of natural resources management and socio-economic issues concluded that it is possible to undertake oil production within a wildlife protected conservation area
without adverse impacts as long as mitigation measures are implemented.

Monitoring for oil impacts is being carried at many levels by relevant agencies. 'Following the report of the technical team in May communication to the oil companies operating in Murchison was dispatched directing immediate actions on observations made then'.

Moses Mapesa concludes by requesting 'that we work together to conserve our natural heritage, harness the oil and use it to improve our livelihoods and also ensure that generations to come can still enjoy our natural heritage long after the oil is finished'.

(Extract of story written by Moses Mapesa, New Vision, 25th August 2009 - full story can be found online by clicking here)

Comment UCF supports the Uganda Wildlife Authority in its work and in August 2009 signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cover their  joint activities.

UCF acknowledges the benefits that should be seen for Uganda and its people from the discovery of oil deposits and has witnessed exploration work in some of the areas in which it operates. UCF wishes to take a balanced view and will continue to monitor any positive or adverse effects for the communities, wildlife and the environment
in its project areas and draw these to the attention of the appropriate authorities.