Recent reports about the Sitatunga gazelle now being officially on the hunting list were confirmed last week by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), causing the predictable outcry among conservationists on one side, while those in favor of hunting considered it a step to open up hunting in the entire country and hoped for hunting blocks or areas to be established as concessions.
There is among the more mature conservationists, however, still the concern about game numbers, which prompted at least some of them in communications with this correspondent to voice their concern, if not outright demand, that this MUST be ascertained first before hunting for any species should be granted. There is also a group categorically opposed to the consumptive use of wildlife, in spite of this being embedded in the amended Wildlife Act under “wildlife use rights.”
Where UWA could defuse some of the arguments would be by publicly availing the findings of the erstwhile “pilot hunting project” outside the Lake Mburu National Park, an issue still raising the temperature among the hardline anti-hunting activists and in a public forum state their intent and discuss their way of going about the introduction of new hunting areas and granting of relevant concessions. Building consensus would clearly be the best option to bring diverse interests together towards an ultimately common objective, which is wildlife conservation.
It was also pointed out to this correspondent that UWA’s heavy leaning towards the Southern African school of thought could also open the door to “canned hunting” – a much condemned activity “down South,” which has come under increased criticism before criticising the lack of governmental intervention to stop illegal poaching outside the protected areas, where a profitable trade in game meat appears to be going on and growing, according to some sources. Here, it was said, the police need to be working hand in hand with UWA enforcement and intelligence personnel to bring this menace to a halt. Upon questioning, the sources conceded that they do make a difference between subsistence hunting and commercial poaching but were firm that the latter must be tackled by the country’s law enforcement bodies immediately.
While hunters and anti-hunters will arguably never really see eye to eye, it is only opportune to give UWA CEO Moses Mapesa the opportunity to comment on the questions posed to him and allow his view to be published here – a move which in the past has drawn criticism for this correspondent but is in his opinion only fair, as well as beneficial, for all others to be able to read a clear position taken to the question.
eTN: I recently saw a German weblink claiming the Sitatunga gazelle is up for hunting in Uganda.
Moses Mapesa: On Sitatunga, as you may know, that this is the easiest antelope to hunt traditionally. It is easy to trap along the swamps with traditional nets or spear. In the last 2 decades, lots of Sitatunga have been traditionally
hunted wherever they occur in swamps outside protected areas. This was after
their numbers had drastically gone up especially in Central Uganda because
of the war.
On the Sesse Islands, Sitatunga hunting tremendously increased with
increased logging and the palm oil project. There is no UWA presence on
It is against that background that we decided to license Sitatunga Sport
Hunting, rather than have them exterminated through traditional hunting.
With the sport hunting program, the traditional hunters aid the sport hunters
and, therefore, do not loose out. They earn some money, they take the meat,
and only a few animals are taken out. They then participate in conservation
and protection of the animal as an economic resource.
Controlled hunting programs in Europe and South Africa have proven
conservatives wrong about the no-hunting policy, especially where land is
owned privately, as is the case for where (illegal) Sitatunga hunting has
been happening over the years. To win over the land owners, traditional
policing by a government agency is rarely successfu,l but economic incentives
eTN: If you say that poaching of the Sitatunga is reducing in areas where hunting is now permitted – how many areas, by the way, are those and located where – what is happening in areas which are not protected but where poaching is nevertheless illegal and a serious worry about the viability of the species’ long-term survival?
Mapesa: As you would appreciate, there are no quick-fix solutions to conservation challenges. We believe the intervention will ultimately check poaching or “illegal” hunting of Sitatunga and other wild animals. To the communities, there is nothing illegal about their traditional hunting expeditions. We are now seeking cooperation on how best to utilize the resources. We want to be partners and not “enemies” in conservation with the local communities and private landowners.
We have noticed interest from landowners where we have not started the interventions. In fact, our pilot was around a few ranches near L. Mburo, but
the demand to participate in the collaborative management of wildlife has
been overwhelming. So now we cover Kafu Basin, Aswa Lolim area, Karamoja,
and Kalangala. We want to take advantage of the positive attitude where
communities and local government leaders now appreciate wildlife as a viable
We are picking lessons from Southern Africa; we have had a team of farmers
visit Zimbabwe early this year.
But I must emphasize that the outcomes of this intervention can only be
measured over a few years and if we can sustain the cooperation that we have
cultivated. At the same time, we must all be aware that with competing
economic land-use practices, unless wildlife can be seen to contribute to the
local and national economy including individual livelihoods (the reason
people poach), we would be fighting a losing battle with the no-touch policy
or with the so-called ban on hunting as experience and studies in many
places has shown.
A key issue, of course, is control. But the controls must evolve through a
system of mutual trust and dialogue not just policing per se. Policing can
Adds this correspondent in closing: the ball is now in the public court where undoubtedly the debate will go on for some time, and it can only be hoped that a mutually acceptable and all-around beneficial solution will ultimately be agreed upon.