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Elephant Walk Man on Uganda

Tony Ofungi, eTN Uganda Correspondent  Sep 11, 2016

The "Elephant Walk Man" is on Uganda's leg of East Africa to raise awareness on the plight of African elephants.

Kenyan-born Jim Justus Nyamu, nicknamed ‚ÄúThe Elephant Walk Man,‚ÄĚ has been walking across East Africa for the last 100 days to raise awareness on the plight of African elephants. He has mingled with different people from Kajiado, Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Korogwe, Same, Tanga, Bagamoyo, Morogoro, Dodoma, Manyara, Mwanza, Bukoba, Mbarara, Kasese, Fort portal, Entebbe, Kampala, and Busia.

On his Ugandan leg, Jim and his team first visited the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) offices last Thursday and engaged the membership to follow in his cause by joining him in an awareness walk the following day .

The walk was led by John Makombo, Acting Executive Director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, and James Lutalo, Director of Tourism at the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities - Uganda, who represented the Minister, and Professor Ephraim Kamuntu who had traveled overseas on official duty.

They were also joined by students from the Makerere University Tourism Association (MUTA) to the sounds of the UWA brass band as well as members of the public. The AUTO team carried a banner with a clear message "STOP Poaching and Wildlife Trafficking NOW."

The starting point of the 7-kilometer early morning walk was at Uganda Wildlife Authority headquarters in Kamwokya in the suburbs of Kampala. It was crowned by a mid-morning ceremony at Kololo independence grounds.

Jim emphasized that combating poaching and wildlife trafficking calls upon a joint initiative involving different stakeholders from both the public and private sectors and from all levels of social ranks, and that this starts with creating a sense of wakefulness among the masses.

"IVORY BELONGS TO ELEPHANTS!" has been his mantra since he resigned as an elephant scientist with Kenya Wildlife Services and dedicated himself to spreading the message through walking. "I will only stop when the world appreciates the fact that ivory belongs to elephants."

Since starting his campaign in 2013, Jim has walked a total of 5,261 kilometers. In the United States, which is the second largest consumer of ivory after China, he has walked 900 kilometers across nine states to convince the US government to set ablaze six tons of ivory.

In the same year, he walked 560 miles from Boston, MA, to Washington, DC, on a worldwide event organized by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT). The DSWT sponsored marches in 15 cities, ranging from London to Cape Town to Bangkok. Independently, sympathetic groups marched in about 25 other cities around the world.

On World Environment Day, June 5, after covering 500 km from Mombasa to Nairobi, he launched another 3,200-km walking campaign and is now on the Ugandan leg which ends on September 15. He shall cross back into Kenya accompanied by flag bearers from the East African states including one with the East African flag which he received from the headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania.

His message does not stop at elephants. "People come here to see gorillas, people come here to see chimpanzees, we have to protect what God has given us so that we are able to maintain our ecosystems and the ‚ÄėPearl of Africa.'

"It will be a shame if we are to lose our elephants; the first [people] who will lose [their] jobs will be our officers, [and] the last [people] who will go will be our board members closing the files."

As he and his team walked the country, he appreciated the experience from hospitality and great food including "katogo" (matooke, bananas, and meat stew). He did not spare criticism for the "boda bodas" (motorbike taxis) which had a brush with the team in Mubende and failed to respect the flags, compared to Tanzania where the citizens were more abiding.

Jim lamented about the hostility of Africans to animals because of the upbringing compared to the western world and America where he saw a young boy who was able to appreciate a caterpillar. In Africa, it would be killed, attributing this to upbringing. "If you see a hyena crossing here, people will start throwing bottles at it," he said.

"This has been the most challenging walk edition, however, it's been one of its own; I have made friends, [and] I learnt a lot from their diverse culture. I have experienced different receptions in different areas; this has taught me that we need to package the awareness information different[ly]."

Speaking on behalf of the Tourism Minister, James Lutalo welcomed the team, members from the Kenya High Commission, African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), International Fund For Animal Welfare (IFAW), Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC), British Council, and the tourism fraternity.

He highlighted the following issues and interventions that the government has taken towards stemming the increase in trade in illegal ivory attributed to poaching, undermining decades of conservation:

That continent-wide survey reveals a massive decline in African savannah elephants from 1.3 million in 1979 to only about 352,000 individuals. Africa lost 30% (about 144,000 individuals) of its elephants between 2007 and 2014, and it is estimated that poachers are killing off 8 percent of savanna elephants a year. Meanwhile, another study found that the second pachyderm species, African forest elephants, which lost 62% of their population between 2002 and 2011, will require at least a century to recover, because they breed significantly slower than thought. Scientists estimate that fewer than 100,000 forest elephants now remain.

The Minister also revealed that African elephant range states have come up with an African Elephant Action Plan (AEAP) that has a number of strategies which require great efforts if achieving the desired target in saving the African Elephant is to be met.

Elephants in Uganda remain listed under Appendix I of CITES. Their population in Uganda has been on the increase since the late 1990s despite the general population decrease on the African continent, with less than 1,000 in 1980 to over 5,000.

Uganda actively participated in the development of the African Elephant Action Plan (AEAP) and has domesticated it by formulating a National Action Plan.

Currently, a number of interventions have been put in place including the ongoing review of the Wildlife Act to provide for punitive actions against ivory traffickers. There are deployments at the main customs exit (Entebbe Airport) where about 5 tons of ivory have been confiscated and a number of people prosecuted. The government has also carried out a number of sensitizations with partner institutions including the customs staff, judiciary, prosecution, police, immigration, Civil Aviation Authority, and local people, including training of intelligence and law enforcement staff.

Jim was presented with an award as a memento to his cause. He is expected back in the country on another leg on a date to be advised which will lead to Murchison Falls, Uganda's largest National Park, which once teemed with over 14,000 elephants in the 60s. He completes this leg mid-October and hopes to see many faces from the region who have been with him in this cause.

Elephant Walk Man on Uganda

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