United States soldiers have trained rangers of Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) on new techniques for countering wildlife trafficking and other associated wildlife crimes. The US soldiers offered to train Uganda’s park rangers skills that will help them investigate the illicit animal tracking. Led by US Soldiers under the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, the training was designed to develop leadership capability within Uganda Wildlife Authority necessary for investigating wildlife crimes, trafficking in Uganda wildlife safari animals as well as treat casualties during operations.
A statement from the US Embassy in Kampala released on last (Wednesday 16th October) afternoon says the trainees who qualified as mid-grade park rangers were passed out from Queen Elizabeth National Park on Friday last week. The training led by US Soldiers under the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion was designed to develop leadership capability within Uganda Wildlife Authority necessary for investigating wildlife crimes, trafficking in wildlife as well as treat casualties during operations. “The rangers planned and executed simulated missions that assessed their ability to navigate, conduct small unit tactics, respond to wildlife crimes, and treat a casualty” the statement reads in part.
The combined U.S. and Ugandan leadership had a chance to witness firsthand the developing skills that the 25 students displayed in a culminating exercise. The culminating exercise consisted of realistic scenario-based training events that assessed the Rangers’ ability to put into practice all the skills they learned during the course. The Rangers planned and executed simulated missions that assessed their ability to navigate, conduct small unit tactics, respond to wildlife crimes, and treat a casualty.
The extensive training program was a four-week course of classroom and practical training that enhanced UWA capabilities to protect wildlife resources by developing self-sufficient leaders. Instruction included weapons handling, field medical care, land navigation, human rights, leadership, crime scene investigations, law enforcement tactics, patrolling, ethics, and values. The top students in this course will serve as instructors in future training programs, leading to a sustainable leader training program managed by UWA.
This graduation marked the end of the third iteration of the CIT JLC course. For future courses, the UWA Ranger Instructors, developed through this program, will serve as the primary instructors with U.S. mentorship. This graduation also marked the development of another 25 students, leading to a new total of 74 Rangers that are ready to continue the sustainable CIT JLC for UWA.
U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Deborah R. Malac; Deputy Commanding General from Combined Joint Task Force, Horn of Africa, Brigadier General James R. Kriesel; Executive Director of Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Sam Mwandha; and UWA Chief Warden Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area, Edward Asalu attended the graduation of the Counter Illicit Trafficking Junior Leadership Course (CIT-JLC) in Queen Elizabeth National Park on Friday, October 11, 2019. The CIT JLC was a program lead by U.S. Soldiers with the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, designed to develop a leadership training capability within UWA to help develop mid-grade park rangers.
The UWA Rangers are assigned to six different national parks in Uganda that include Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area, Lake Mburo National Park, Kibale National Park, Murchison Falls National Park, Mount Elgon Conservation Area, and UWA HQ Conservation Area.
Uganda is a channel for trafficking in wildlife products including Pangolin scales to the Middle East Countries including China where they are demanded for their medicinal values. The others are ivory from conflict neighboring countries of DR Congo and the South Sudan often seized by Uganda Wildlife Authority and Immigration as they are trafficked through Entebbe International Airport as telecommunication equipment. Some of the most common wildlife crimes include poaching for bushmeat, illicit trade in wildlife products including scales, ivory, horns, hides and skins.
Why is there poaching in Uganda?
According to the Uganda Wildlife Trafficking report Poaching in Uganda is practised mainly for meat, human-wildlife conflict, for the pet trade and traditional and medicinal uses. The main target species for ivory, meat and skins and other products like scales, feathers in Uganda are: antelopes, Warthogs and wild pigs (meat); Lions, and Leopards Panthera pardus (human-wildlife conflict and skins); pangolins (meat and scales used in African and Asian traditional medicine), chameleons (for international pet trade); and birds (as pets and for traditional purposes–rituals and beliefs).
Areas prone to poaching in Uganda
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Three suspected poachers were once arrested over the brutal killing of a 12-year-old male mountain gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park situated in south-western Uganda, on June 17. Four others are on the run. The healthy gorilla identified as Mizaano, was the only black back in the Habinyanja mountain gorilla family, was speared to death as he tried to fight the poachers’ hunting dogs. The poachers had reportedly laid traps in the forest, targeting antelopes, duikers and other edible animals, but the traps caught the male gorilla instead.
Mountain gorillas, the lifeline of Uganda’s tourism industry, were once listed under the critically endangered species by the IUCN. Uganda is home to half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas hence attracting a big number of travellers for Uganda gorilla tours. Much of the total population is found in Bwindi which has over 32 gorilla families among which only 18 are habituated and available for gorilla trekking safaris in Uganda compared to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park Uganda which has only one habituated gorilla family. These mountain gorillas are threatened with encroachment on their habitat, low birth rates and zoonotic diseases.
Murchison Falls National Park
Murchison Falls National Park is a hugely important component of Uganda’s protected area network and the biggest of all measuring 5200 sq. km. In the 1960s Murchison Falls National Park Uganda was famed for its abundance of wildlife. At that time, elephant numbers in Uganda were over 30,000. Half of that population was found in Murchison Falls Park. From the early 1970s, elephants were hunted down with liberty by both security forces and raiding poachers for ivory, accounting for the decline in the elephant population by over 80%.
In the early 1990s, the government of Uganda was committed to conservation and protection of the remaining wildlife. Counts in 1995 indicated a population of 200-350 for the entire protected area while the survey done in 1999 indicated an increase in elephants to 780. The population of elephants is now estimated at 904 in Murchison Falls National Park following the UWA count in 2010.
Although recovering, wildlife populations in Murchison Falls National Park remain a fraction of their former extent. As a result, an increase in poaching represents a major threat and must be met with swift and effective counteraction to prevent major setbacks in the species’ recovery.
Other parks under threat in Uganda include Kidepo Valley National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park Uganda among the many.