OPINION: Chimpanzee conservation in Bugoma forest can absorb Uganda’s tourism shock after ADF attack

Mr Brighton Aryampa, Chief Executive Officer for Youth for Green Communities (YGC). PHOTO/COURTESY

After robotically surviving the covid-19 upset for about two years, Uganda’s tourism again faces the alleged Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) upset.

The shooting dead of two foreign tourists and one Ugandan on October 17, 2023, hit the world spotlight news. No doubt, this has had a knock on Uganda’s tourism sector, taking us back to the years of the pandemic that Uganda and the world have tried to let go.

Though the government says all the suspected attackers of the tourists have been killed, more efforts are needed to convince tourists.

I salute the national forces but I also say it is not enough and there is more than that to be done jointly as nationals. This should help to open our eyes and look beyond the security threat against tourists.

It is common knowledge that Uganda is not just blessed with hospitable people but also has very beautiful unique God given fauna and flora. These protected areas are not just good for the eyes but rather make breath taking, perfect memories and life living.

Last week, I was in Murchison Falls National Park for which I have many stories for the world to consider but I will focus on the underrated tourism potentials in Bugoma forest particularly the chimpanzee social souls.

While Bugoma Central Forest Reserve has traditionally faced challenges such as expansion of small-scale agriculture, population growth and others, the deforestation and forest degradation challenges remain the greatest threats to the forest survival.

These challenges escalated in 2016 when Uganda’s Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development issued Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom with a freehold land title for the part of the forest that the kingdom claims to own. Thereafter, the kingdom leased the land it claims to Hoima Sugar Limited which started destroying parts of the forest believed by the National forestry Authority (NFA) to be part of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve in 2020.

Efforts to reverse the transaction have not had fruits but wildlife continue getting frustrated.

Satellite images from Maxar Worldview show that by March 3, 2022, approximately 2,800 hectares of the forest had been destroyed.

The fact remains that, 401,144 hectares of the protected Bugoma forest make it remain the largest natural tropical forest along the Ugandan side of the Albertine Rift Valley between Budongo forest and River Semliki.

It plays an enormous role in preserving wildlife migratory corridors. The forest is composed of 257 different tree species and shrubs, 14 of which are on International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list but the uniqueness is the population of more than 570 chimpanzees which potentially could make Uganda a tourist hotspot again and a revelation for Bugoma host communities to enjoy tourism related advantages.

The uniqueness of Uganda’s chimps is the high social behaviour. They live with communities, other animals and birds that everyone would love to see. They sleep in trees particularly the Ugandan ironwood tree that offers the firmest and stable place of comfort whilst building themselves nests of leaves.

The key take away is that they live in tropical rainforests. As we speak now, this tourism opportunity is ours to lose amidst the alleged ADF backline. The continued sugarcane plantation, illegal charcoal burning, oil and gas developments and others are no doubt going to destroy the forest and natural habitat of chimpanzees which could be the face of Uganda’s tourism sector that not only contributes nearly 10% to Uganda’s GDP and is responsible for 23% of Uganda’s exports as well as earnings of as much as $1.6 billion but also employs more than 667,000 people in Uganda.

I urge our government through responsible ministries and agencies to work with organisations and host communities to build awareness about the threats that chimpanzees face, develop action plans to preserve their habitats and help community members to develop alternative livelihoods that do not jeopardise the animals’ habitat.

These threats are being driven by the lack of sufficient information on the green economic alternatives that can be harnessed while protecting the forest. If these alternatives are not developed, more sections of the forest could be destroyed due to competing land use interests.

Before I forget, I recommend the role of NEMA for ordering Hoima Sugar Limited in September last year to restore the degraded part of Bugoma. My prayer, perhaps, like every nature loving Ugandan is to see the order enforced.

To secure the future of chimpanzees in Bugoma, we must appreciate the laws under the Uganda Wildlife Act Cap 200. It is high time we started discussions of declaring Bugoma forest a national park to enjoy the breath of life memories as we stir economic development of Uganda through tourism revenues.

This can be done by the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Col (Rtd) Tom Butime, by invoking his powers under the law.

In a nutshell, chimpanzee conservation in Bugoma forest can be a revelation and the face of tourism sector amidst ADF backlash.

Let us bird watch and walk nature in Bugoma.

The writer, Mr Brighton Aryampa, is an Advocate of the High Court and Chief Executive Officer at Youth for Green Communities (YGC), Kampala. Email: aryampa.brighton@gmail.com or baryampa@ygcug.org

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