For many tourists that visit Uganda, majority are interested in interacting with the wildlife, that is according to commissioner of wildlife conservation in the Ministry of Tourism, James Lutalo.
That is not to say the country is short of tourist attractions. The country is endowed with the longest river, the Nile, mountains or forests and hospitable people.
Lutalo told Daily Monitor ahead of the World Elephant Day which was yesterday, that animals such as lions, elephants and buffaloes, among others, leave an everlasting impression on the visitors as such animals have become extinct in certain areas.
“When those foreign visitors come, you see them taking pictures, sharing [on social media], indicating that they are impressed with our beauty,” Lutalo says.
Tourism is projected by the National Planning Authority, to contribute 15 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
But the sector drivers are currently facing threats from poachers and other human activities according to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) executive director, Dr Andrew Seguya.
The World Elephant Day which was launched on August 12, 2012 to conserve the diminishing African and Asian elephants, thus comes in handy.
“We want to tell people to live in harmony with the animals. People should know that there are national parks and other areas,” Dr Seguya said.
Competition for space with humans
In western Uganda, there have been several cases of human-elephant conflict.
Due to encroachment on the national parks, the elephants, which Lutalo says never forget where their ancestors used to pass, end up crossing into farmlands and eat people’s crops.
This has made some people kill them or cry out to UWA to relocate the animals.
But why would one care about elephants occupying chunks of land yet humans do not have where to live?
“There is a percentage of resources that goes to those communities neighbouring the parks. Elephants therefore contribute to community welfare. Although some funds are abused by corrupt officials, it would build schools, hospitals,” Lutalo says.
Probably, due to lack of visible contribution to communities, many people do not see value in conserving the elephants.
In fact, a recent study published in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, indicated that about 100,000 elephants were killed in the last four years globally. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that the elephant population across Africa had dropped from 550,000 in 2006 to 470,000 in 2013.
It attributed the drop to mainly poaching and environmental degradation.
Uganda continues to lose habitats for these animals due to population growth. This has led to more land being cleared for cultivation to feed the growing population or for settlement.
This also affects that biodiversity which has plants that elephants feed on.
Fortunately, statistics from Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) indicate that elephant population for the Queen Elizabeth protected area has gradually increased from 400 in 1988 to 2,959 in 2010, while in the same period in Murchison Falls protected area the large mammals have too increased from 201 in 1995 to 904 in the same period.
In the same period, the population of buffaloes has increased from 2,477 to 9,192 that of giraffes from 153 to 930 and hartebeests from 2,431 to 3,589 due to several factors, including stability in the country, strict conservation measures and general awareness among the population.
This is not to say that elephants do not disappear in Uganda, especially with ready global market mainly from Asia, where ivory is treasured. For example, in 2010, 12 elephants disappeared from the game parks while in 2011 another 40 elephants were poached. The numbers decreased to 26 in 2012 and 22 in 2014.
Dr Seguya attributes the increasing numbers to the current peace across the country as rebels were poaching the animals, increased surveillance and increased awareness campaigns about the need to conserve wildlife.
“We have achieved [more numbers] but we are still encouraging people to plant crops like red pepper, tobacco and keep bees which keep away elephants,” Dr Seguya added.
Uganda’s tourism sector contributed 7.9 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2013 translating into Shs5.5 trillion and created more than 500,000 jobs, meaning protection of the inhabitants of the wild animals and other tourists’ attractions such as River Nile and forests should be emphasised.
David Banks, the Africa programme director of conservation agency, The Nature Conservancy says the biggest threat to elephants in the world is the poaching fuelled by ready market in Asian countries. “Poaching is threatening the survival of elephants, and hurts the people who live where elephants range by fuelling crime and scaring away tourists who bring income to families who desperately need it.”
In fact, Banks estimated that there were 1.2 million elephants in Africa in 1980 but now there are only about 430,000, with an estimated 20,000 elephants killed last year alone.
He says the organisation is working on key areas to tackle the extinction of elephants.
One of these is working with relevant authorities in Africa to reduce poaching, protect habitats, and ensure that communities benefit from conserving wildlife. Poachers take advantage when elephants are not being effectively protected.
Also, the organisation is working to reduce demand for ivory. This is being done through working in partnership with Chinese digital media company, Tencent and the International Fund for Animal Welfare to halt illegal ivory trafficking happening on China’s largest social media platforms .
Tit bits on elephants
Elephants are the largest land mammals
Elephants are extremely intelligent animals and have memories that enable them remember things for many years
They can communicate over long distances through the ground, air and sensitive body parts like skin on their feet and trunks
Elephants take long time to grow physically and emotionally. They reach the majority of their size by of age 15 but continue to grow in size and weight until up to 20years
Male elephants usually reach their sexual maturity around age 10 but most males don’t mate until about age 30
Females reach sexuality before their bodies are fully grown and are able to produce as early as 9 years, but most are between 12 and 16 years.
Elephants mate during the rainy season and have a gestation period of 22 months.
Females can have a calf every three to five years until 40 years but most female elephants have no more than four babies during their lifetime.
Older female elephants usually control the herd and pass on life time behaviours to the young ones.
Female elephants live separately from males.
Female elephants form deep family bonds and live in tight matriarchal family groups of related females in the herd called a matriarch. When a calf is born, its raised and protected by the whole matriarch. This matriarch consists of eight-100 individuals
Males leave the family unit between the ages 12-15 years and may lead solitary lives or temporarily with other males
Elephants can also live nearly as humans in the wild, elephants might live anywhere from 30 to 50 years with lucky ones hitting 70
A calf weighs between 200-300 pounds at birth
An elephant cow weighs between 3500-4500kg on average and measures 2.6metres at the back
An elephant bull weighs about 5000-6500kg and measures around 3 metres at the back
Adult elephants eat between 300-400Kgs of food per day
After elephants hits 50, they start to reduce in physical size sometimes suffering from problems such as arthritics
Elephants lose their teeth several times during their lifetimes
They can grow back their molars six times usually when they can no longer replace their molars, the elephants die