Who owns wildlife in Uganda? Part I/2

Gerald Tenywa, a New Vision scribe reported on April 13th, 2018 on page 9 about the killing of 11 lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park. He wrote that the wild cats were poisoned, and the carcass left to rot in the reserved park for wildlife. Out of the recorded 30 lions in the park, Tenywa wrote, 11 were poisoned to death. This leaves a total of 19 lions in that park; a situation threatening many sectors of the country, including the tourism and revenue sectors.

But who owns the wildlife reserves of Uganda?

For many who know the current land situation must appreciate that Uganda hosts millions of refugees, settlers and displaced people in camps across the nation and many of them survive on agriculture. This increasing population explosion is what Major General Proscovia Nalweyiso recently warned as a ticking time bomb for the nation as she appeared before the Catherine Bamugemereire Land Commission this month. It is not surprising to hear that the reason why these wild cats were killed was to save domestic animals and fields belonging to settlers and scores of illegal wildlife residents.

This week’s series, in a Q&A approach focuses on the law governing wildlife in Uganda.

The Uganda Wildlife Act, Cap.200

Although Cabinet tabled a bill to amend the present law in 2017, we will look at the prevailing law that commenced on 1st August 1996 and which now still governs wildlife activities.

Who owns wildlife?

The Government does. It owns wildlife on behalf of the people of Uganda and has powers vested in relavant authorities established by statute to manage all matters wildlife.

Any other person or authority owning or possessing wildlife must have a special license/permit to do so. If that person or authority owned the wildlife before 1996, there is no need for the license. However, given the lifespan of most wildlife, this latter provision is almost impossible to execute.

Plus, any unlawful ownership of wildlife does not entitle the owner to legitimate ownership should the owner apply for such.

So, who manages wildlife?

Government does. The government has powers to appoint a Board to supervise and manage the affairs of wildlife and to perform any other legitimate activity as enshrined in the Act.

This Board, together with the Executive Director, must approve of any commercial arrangements to manage conservation areas subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment from the authorized body, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).

What are Wildlife Conservation Areas?

These are designated areas for wildlife and are exempt from individual ownership or if any, subject to approval by the Board.

Conservation areas are established legally and must be kept within the confines of wildlife. They include; national parks, wildlife reserves and wildlife management areas which include sanctuaries and community wildlife areas.

What is the procedure for declaring an area a wildlife conservation area?

The procedure is provided under section 17 of the Act. Briefly, it provides that;

  1. The Minister (Minister for Tourism and Trade) consults with Local Government officials where the proposed wildlife conservation is to be located,
  2. The Minister conducts an Environmental Impact Assessment to verify the ecological consequences of the proposal. This process must be concluded in 90 days, but the reality may be different,
  3. The Minister receives approval from Parliament,
  4. The Minister declares the area a wildlife conservation area through a gazette/publication; and
  5. Any other changes must go through the same process.

What activities are permitted in a national park/wildlife reserve?

Activities compliant with nature are allowed. They include; biodiversity conservation, recreation, scenic viewing, scientific research and any other as permitted by law and after payment of a fee.

Who is allowed into a wildlife conservation area?

People automatically allowed on site include the Minister, Board members, lawfully appointed officers of the Minister and Board or police officers on official duties, a person holding the permit to enter are the priority category of persons allowed on site in wildlife.

Of late, government has employed the army to protect these reserved wildlife areas. However, we note that the rampart approval of refugee and displaced peoples in reserved wildlife areas will cause more harm than good to the economy.

What offences does the law prescribe?

All offences listed in the Act have been reported in many conservation areas. The situation is dire where aliens (including domestic aliens) are involved.

  1. Hunting, injuring wildlife or even a domestic animal is illegal;
  2. Taking, destroying, damaging or defacing ‘…geomorphological, archaeological, historical, cultural or scientific interest, or any structure lawfully placed or constructed…’ in the conservation area will get the doer in trouble with the law;
  3. Preparing conservation land for cultivation, mineral exaction or attempting to do so is unlawful;
  4. Driving or introducing a wild animal into a conservation area is illegal;
  5. Willfully (intentionally) driving or introducing any domestic animal into a national park or allowing your domestic animal for which you have charge over into a wildlife conservation area is unlawful. It is advisable to keep domestic animals and other pets away from reserved conservation areas for various reasons like disease control and endangerment to human and wild life; and
  6. Starting or maintaining a fire without authorization is also unlawful. (Refer to reported wildfires in Canada and Australia)

Conservation areas are not residential areas.

All permits issued to people allowed into the conservation areas are paid for and the rules are strictly implemented. The country is dealing with endangered species of animals as well as almost extinct ones. Recently, Sudan, the last white rhino in the world died in Kenya. He left two females, Najin and her daughter Fatu who will have to recreate a diluted version of the race. This and many other situations threaten the wildlife sector and therefore important to rectify.

In Part II of the series, we will look at other legal aspects touching on wildlife and whether the Bill before Cabinet will yield any fruit in protecting wildlife in Uganda.

Poaching, poisoning wildlife and our survival on wildlife are notable issues our government must deal with before it is too late.

To be continued…

This article was written by our Feature Columnist, Atuhairwe Agrace for our weekly law newsletter, The Deuteronomy. To contact Agrace, write to her on zoyahirji@gmail.com. To receive The Deuteronomy in real time, click HERE.
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