Reports recently in the local media, and a subsequent reproduction of an article by The Monitor on the eTN Website, prompted a series of frantic communications from ardent conservationists and sections of the tourism industry, decrying this latest move by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
Standing out among the many allegations made is the lack of – according to several sources – publication and open discussion of the findings of the hunting pilot project started about 8 years ago outside the Lake Mburo National Park, which the same sources say was to last a limited period of time but is now almost reaching a decade. It is alleged that UWA is hiding the findings, which previous managements had promised to publish and discuss with stakeholders, but that has apparently never taken place.
“They used this as a smokescreen to bring in hunting through the back door,” said one regular reader from Kampala, while others demanded to know what happened to the government-hunting ban.
It was indeed the policy of the NRM government for a long time that no hunting would be allowed in Uganda, and those now up in arms, are demanding that the matter come before parliament. They accuse the Uganda’s Ministry of Tourism, Trade, and Industry of standing idle over such developments and maybe even covertly support these activities and demand a fresh policy statement in parliament to then prompt a debate over the pros and cons of hunting in the country and if the ban should stand.
Admittedly, the present Wildlife Statute, under which UWA operates, gives the wildlife authority the facility to grant such licenses under the section “wildlife use rights.” But that notwithstanding, if indeed the data of the pilot project are being deliberately withheld, it may be questionable why a hunting license should now be granted.
It is also alleged by the same sources that the reports may not be favorable at all towards hunting, but this cannot be independently verified unless the reports come into the public domain to scrutinize and interpret the data.
Conservationists also point out that hunting for some of the species now advertised by those companies may not be sustainable, as game numbers in those areas are low, but UWA and the conservationists in question use different sets of game numbers to make their point. More recent independent data from a formal game census appears unavailable at present to make an informed judgment.
That said, hunting companies overseas have in the past openly advertised hunting the Sitatunga, an endangered species of wetland and swamp gazelles, which appears on the CITES annex and should under no circumstances be available to hunt, not in Uganda nor elsewhere. That dubious method of drawing hunters from overseas into their fold has further added to the range of allegations, that – like in southern Sudan where the government has imposed a total ban at present until a game census establishes where and if at all hunting should be permitted in some areas – no licenses be given at present until all details are exhaustively debated in an open public forum.
It is also understood that conservationists, sections of the tourism fraternity, and other members of civil society are now turning the spotlight on the two hunting companies to closely monitor and scrutinize their every move to document even the slightest infringements in order to then either demand the cancellation of their licenses or else take them to court outright.
While relations between this reporter and UWA are generally friendly and cordial, a request to clarify the allegations over the findings of the pilot project went unanswered. Should a feedback be received at a later stage, it will be published in one of the upcoming editions.