Poaching Surges in Uganda as Coronavirus Devastates Eco Tourism

Silverback gorilla Rafiki was the leader of a 17-member group in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Image:Uganda Wildlife Authority

by Julia Fine, ODP Contributing Writer

Due to the impact of the pandemic, poaching has “surged” in Uganda, as Dina Fine Maron reported last week in National Geographic. Using illegal wire snares and steel traps, poachers are able to catch unsuspecting animals such as antelopes, giraffes, and lions. According to National Geographic, “thousands” of these traps have been used in Uganda’s national parks since mid-March.

As Halima Athumani reported in Voice of America, Ugandan authorities have said “the halt to tourism caused by COVID-19 has pushed many people who depended on tourists into poaching the very animals the industry depends on.” Indeed, according to NatGeo, it seems like local communities facing starvation are setting these traps, rather than organized crime networks. Because of the collapse of tourism, which created the need for alternative income sources, the amount of wildlife poaching has doubled as compared to last year. 

Why This Matters:
we reported on the story of Ophiocordyceps sinensis, better known as Himalayan Viagra, and noted that it “demonstrates the need for a people-centered conservation strategy that thinks not only of the region’s survival, but also on the people dependent on the land’s resources.” So too do we need a people-centered vision of conservation in Ugandan parks. That means providing alternative income sources to communities in order to deter them from poaching, as many conservationists in Uganda are calling for

Recent Casualties:
Local communities, according to NatGeo, are attempting to catch animals like antelopes and wild boars. They either sell the meat of the animals or use it to nourish themselves. But these steel traps are, of course, not discerning. Lions, giraffes, and, most recently, a silverback gorilla have all died in the traps or through accidental spearing.

Tragically, last month, the famous mountain gorilla Rafiki was “killed by a sharp object that penetrated his internal organs,” as BBC reported. A suspect admitted that he and three others “had been hunting smaller animals in the park and that he killed Rafiki in self-defense when he was attacked,” according to the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The mountain gorilla, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is an endangered species. 

Need for Community Engagement:  Before COVID-19, tourism helped create jobs and bring income into local communities. As NatGeo reported, permits for gorilla-viewing tours cost $600. The resulting revenue sharing agreements meant local communities got a portion of permit sales, as well as some of the gate fees. The loss of tourists, in turn, has meant a loss of a major income source for many community members. 

Biologist Martha Robbins, in an interview with NatGeo, said it best: “Conservation needs to have multifaceted approaches, and the needs of local communities require more attention so the whole house of cards doesn’t fall apart when global tourism comes to a halt.” To protect both local communities and Uganda’s biodiversity, a conservation plan with buy-in from and protection for local communities must be implemented. 

Taking a Stand: There are examples of how protected areas are succeeding in the fight against poaching during the pandemic. For instance, the Mala Mala Game Reserve is one of the oldest and largest private game reserves in South Africa and is working with local communities as well as the South African government to ensure park rangers and staff get paid during the pandemic. Though conservation understandably varies from country to country in Africa, empowering community-based conservation is perhaps the most powerful tool to deter poaching.


Up Next

Polar Bears Jeopardized by Drastic Habitat Loss; DOI Says ANWR Drilling Won’t Hurt Them

Polar Bears Jeopardized by Drastic Habitat Loss; DOI Says ANWR Drilling Won’t Hurt Them

All but a few populations of polar bears found in the high Arctic could be extinct by 2100 due to the drastic loss of sea ice across their range, according to a study in the Journal Nature Climate Change published Monday.  Without ice, polar bears must survive on land, long distances from their food supplies, causing them to go hungry.

Why This Matters:  This study puts data behind the starving polar bear photo.  The U.S. population is one of the most threatened in the world because of the loss of ice.

Continue Reading 543 words
“Himalayan Viagra” — the World’s Costliest Fungus — Is Added to IUCN Red List

“Himalayan Viagra” — the World’s Costliest Fungus — Is Added to IUCN Red List

This week Shivani Azad reported in Times of India that the “world’s costliest fungus,” Ophiocordyceps sinensis, was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species as a “vulnerable” species. The fungus, better known as “Himalayan Viagra,” yields profits on the global market between $5 billion and $11 billion  — in traditional Chinese medicine, it is a panacea for a  wide variety of medical issues, including as an aid to sexual performance.

Continue Reading 684 words
North Atlantic Right Whale and Many Species of Lemurs Now Critically Endangered

North Atlantic Right Whale and Many Species of Lemurs Now Critically Endangered

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is the global authority when it comes to whether a species is at risk of extinction, yesterday added the North Atlantic Right Whale of the eastern U.S. to its list of Critically Endangered species (elevated from Endangered) that are on the brink of extinction.  The IUCN also “upgraded” 13 different species of lemurs to the Critically Endangered list along with 20 other lemur species at risk of imminent extinction.

Why This Matters:  These species are on the verge of going extinct not because of anything they did, but rather because of us humans.

Continue Reading 561 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.