The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the National Forestry Authority (NFA) -the two major conservation ombudsmen have issued corroborative statements in favour of rescuing Bugoma forest from the growing threats of depletion by both small and large scale farmers.
Mr Tom Okello, the NFA Executive Director (ED), told Kazi-njema News that degrading Bugoma is attacking various aspects of environment all together and does not only endanger wildlife but also mankind.
According to him, the apparent flooding plaguing the country is a resultant factor of environmental degradation in a sense that it can no longer hold water due to reduction of natural reservoirs enclosing wetlands and forests.
“Given our location, water flowing from the neighboring countries end into floods to us,” he said.
Mr Okello said if left intact, Bugoma central forest reserve is a biodiversity hotspot iconic and ideal for research.
According to him, three months ago, NFA established the presence of forest elephants in Bugoma forest when they previewed their camera traps, a discovery that excited them but triggered worry over the growing threats of degradation.
He, however, said these elephants are very elusive that they cannot survive outside such a natural forest.
In respect of the forest, NFA recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Bugoma Primate Conservation Project that looks at research and they are now working to habituate chimpanzees with one chimpanzee group already oriented.
The director also expressed optimism that Bugoma will play a big role towards neutralising the carbon emissions from the oil industry given its nearness to the proposed oil refinery and the Kingfisher, one of the major oil fields in the Albertine region so far.
“We feel it must be conserved,” he said.
Mr Okello appeals to development partners to continue helping in the area of conservation including the European Union (EU) which has been helping Uganda in the forestry sector since 1975.
On the threat of illegal land titles in central forest reserves across the country, Mr Okello said as at the end of October this year, they had identified 450 land titles illegally acquired inside different forest reserves.
The majority were spotted in the central region especially in Masaka, Wakiso and Mpigi districts.
He attributed this to impunity instigated by corruption in some government offices responsible for issuing land titles.
The ED said as of October 28, this year, 20 hectares of forest had been cleared on Bugoma forest land disputed between NFA and Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom on which Hoima Sugar Limited plans to grow sugarcane.
Bugoma central forest reserve has a cutline of 117 kilometres that makes it difficult to supervise and prohibit encroachment to zero.
On the side of the UWA, Mr George Owoyesigyire, the Deputy Director for Community Conservation said the authority loses meaning when Bugoma forest is degraded yet the Wildlife Act of 2019 allows them to protect wildlife inside and outside protected areas.
“It means we are not only restricted to national parks but to work in all wildlife habitats. So we must get concerned about the threats against Bugoma central forest reserve,” he said.
According to him, what is now expected are vigorous efforts to conserve the small percentage of the existing natural forests and plant more instead of plans to clear the existing reserves.
“Forest cover reduced from 24% in 1980 to 9% according to 2019/20 assessment. This has increased human-wildlife conflict,” he told this website.
Mr Owoyesigyire added that about 3,000 cases of human-wildlife conflicts are registered in the country annually while about 300 are registered per month on average resulting from attacks on their natural habitats.
On Bugoma forest, Mr Owoyesigyire told Kazi-njema News that it is home to internationally recognised endangered species including chimpanzees, baboons and both the black and white monkeys.
Talking about chimpanzees that greatly attract foreign tourists to Uganda, he said there are about 5,000 chimpanzees as per the census of 2001/2.
He warns that the primates might reduce significantly with the rising attacks on their habitat given their lifestyle of living in families.
“They live in families which makes their migration difficult even if you wanted to destroy a certain habitat and relocate them. If you take one from a family in Bugoma forest to Bwindi forest for example, they will fight and kill each other,” he explained.
Mr Owoyesigyire welcomes the good news of the identification of forest elephants in Bugoma forest.
He credits Bugoma forest for serving as a connection of tourists from Northwestern Uganda in Murchison Falls National Park to the extreme southwestern Uganda advancing to the Bwindi impenetrable forest as they change the dollars for the local to benefit.
It is also a migratory route for animals in the same direction.
Current touristic value
Mr Owoyesigyire revealed that more than 350 visitors come to Uganda to see animals per year. Uganda also receives over Shs90b from tourists who come to see wildlife based tourist attractions.
Uganda receives more than 1.5 million tourists pulled by nature based features.
During a visit to Bugoma central forest reserve by the European Union diplomats who reacted to the boiling plot to replace part of the forest with sugarcane plantations, Mr Owoyesigire called upon everybody to raise a flag whenever a sense of environmental degradation is identified.
“Look at this value, compare with other factors facilitating irreversible loss of biodiversity and finally join us in conservation,” he appealed.
This story was published with support from Global Greengrant Fund (GGF)