MFCA 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 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 MFCA (Laws et al., 1970). From the early 1970s, elephants were hunted down with impunity by both security forces and marauding poachers for ivory, accounting for the decline in the elephant population by over 80%.
Beginning early 1990’s, the government was committed to conservation and protection of the remaining wildlife. Counts in 1995 indicated a population of 200-350 for the entire protected area (Sommerlatte and Williamson 1995; Lamprey and Michelmore 1996); a survey in 1999 indicated an increase in elephants to 780 and the population of elephants is now estimated at 904 in MFCA (UWA Rwetsiba & Wanyama 2010).
Although recovering, wildlife populations in MFCA remain a fraction of their former extent. As a result, any upsurge in poaching represents a major threat and must be met with swift and effective counter action to prevent major setbacks in the species’ recovery. Pressure on the park is real and increasing.
The cessation of the long conflict in northern Uganda, in which the rural population was evacuated into Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps, has finally led to people returning to their villages. The return to peace and security is welcome news but more people on the boundaries of the park increases pressure on the wildlife and leads to conflict between humans and animals.
Poaching has increased dramatically in MFCA, both for bush meat and for ivory. The waterways are heavily exploited by poachers to hunt mammals on the shore. In April 2011, 40 rangers did a three day patrol of the Delta to Pakuba area of Murchison Falls, the region most densely populated by animals and a tourism hotspot. Over three days 1154 snares were recovered and destroyed. On February 12, 2013, rangers did a six- hour search in the small part of the Delta and discovered 285 wire snares. This on its own tells the magnitude of the problem. Alarmingly it is the huge rise in bushmeat poaching, predominantly using snares and powerful gin traps that is having the greatest impact on wildlife.
In 2011, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) requested UCF to help counter the huge surge in poaching in Murchison Falls National Park. UCF and UWA through the Conservation Area Manager of Murchison developed both short term and long term strategies to solve the problems faced in MFCA.
Support to law enforcement
UCF has provided two patrol boats, two boat engines and trained 8 Marine Rangers. The UWA Marine Unit, in coordination with land based ranger patrols, has undertaken hundreds of patrols, and removed thousands of snares, destroyed over a hundred boats used for poaching and burnt 50km of illegal fishing nets. Many more fishermen have been warned and made aware of the law.
UCF has donated a 175cc Yamaha motorbike to support law enforcement in MFCA. The bike has helped in intelligence information gathering and has led to ambush and capture of some of the notorious ivory dealers around the park. In addition UCF donates bicycles for use by UWA rangers in their work.
Ranger accommodation and marine station
UCF is supporting MFCA in infrastructure development and capacity building to meet the challenges they are facing. The construction of Semanya Ranger Station by UCF, providing accommodation for a permanent ranger force on the Delta region has had enormous impact against poaching and other illegal activities. The ranger station is able to house 22 rangers, six permanently and 16 for the Elite Mobile Ranger Unit.
For the first time, UWA has a big base along the Nile delta comprising of ranger post and marine station from which rangers can carry out operations to counter illegal activity. The impact has been immediate – on the very day UCF handed the station over to UWA at the end of April 2013, 5 poachers with spears and snares were arrested in the vicinity. Since then further arrests have been made, large numbers of snares removed, and animals rescued from these cruel and indiscriminate wire traps. UCF also encouraged poachers to give up their activities by employing ex-poachers in the construction work of its projects thereby providing them with an alternative means of income.
Support to the veterinary unit
UCF has helped support UWA’s veterinary unit in Murchison Falls. Sadly large numbers of animals are getting caught in, and die in, the thousands of snares placed by the poachers.
UCF with additional support from corporate members and the Murchison Falls Invitational Fishing Tournament, held by Murchison Falls River Lodge, managed to completely rebuild a damaged UWA car for the veterinary unit and law enforcement units at nil cost to UCF and UWA. The car has had a huge impact in the field since it was handed over to UWA in August 2012.
How this was achieved?
Support for these projects has been generously provided by the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, the International Elephant Foundation, SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, Tusk Trust, Equator Catering, Renco, Toyota Uganda, Engsol, Ortek Ltd, Civicon, Murchison Falls Invitational Fishing Tournament, Sadolin Paints (U) Limited and Keltron among others.
UCF would like to express their own gratitude to all the friends and supprters for their continued and valued support in protecting Uganda’s precious wildlife.
Our future plans
UCF is planning to build two more new ranger posts at Mupina and Bulya in the Southern Murchison Falls Conservation Area in addition to converting and helping to equip a building at Paraa to form a base for the UWA veterinary unit.
Project Update – January 2014
Two new ranger posts built to tackle poaching in southern Murchison Falls
The amount of game in southern MFCA is healthy, just heavily poached, and the poachers have not been challenged for 50 years. That has now changed. UWA needed to regain control of the core habitats in the heart of MFCA. It has started to do this by asking UCF to build Bulya and Mupina Ranger Posts. Both are built from converted containers and currently provide accommodation for three rangers and an office at each.
Whilst building the facilities UCF and UWA have been undertaking widespread ranger patrols clearing priority areas of old and new snares and gin traps, to ensure the hippo populations are safe and that their impact on the habitat is maximised. It is the mega-herbivore that will control the regeneration of habitat.
The WILD LEO (The Wildlife Intelligence and Leadership Development for Law Enforcement Officers) Project is a collaboration between UCF, UWA and the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement. UCF has trained Rangers in how to collect and analyse evidence of illegal activity using a digital camera with an integrated GPS unit, which can then be presented to commanders and a prosecution team to use as evidence.
Project Update – June 2014
Recovery of the Southern MFCA
The section of MFCA south of the Nile covers 3000km², has only two roads, and until the end of 2013 had received virtually no investment in protection or infrastructure for over 50 years. In the 1960s, this area was famed as the home of one of Africa’s largest populations of elephants, before controlled culling and massive, uncontrolled poaching slashed their numbers from 14,000 to just 200. The population now stands at around 500 and given improved protection, elephant numbers can once again reach the thousands. More elephants are necessary to Southern Murchison as in their absence open savanna has been colonised by bush, reducing open habitat for plains animals. Over time, an increased elephant population would restore tracts of open grassland, benefitting wildlife and creating new opportunities for tourists and the tourism industry.
Poachers in Southern MFCA have barely been challenged for 50 years. This is now changing as UCF and UWA seek to regain control of the core habitats in the heart of MFCA. Building Bulaya and Mupina ranger posts was the first step. Both have been built from converted containers and each currently provides accommodation and an office for three rangers. These new bases enable regular patrols in the heart of Southern MFCA for the first time in years. With your help we can do much more. By channeling further donations of funds and materials to where they are most needed, Bulaya and Mupina ranger posts will just be the beginning of a new era in the south of the MFCA.
Large scale clearance of existing snares and gin traps is ongoing. One large scale sweep by rangers was done in March 2014 that resulted in the recovery of 42 wire snares and 6 metal traps. During the same patrol a warthog was found dead, trapped by a metal snare. Another large scale sweep is scheduled in May 2014. Since January when rangers were deployed, around 20 poaching camps have been destroyed, weapons confiscated, and 15 poachers arrested. On 8th April a further 4 poaching camps were discovered 10km north of Mupina, resulting in four arrests. The poachers appeared in Masindi court for the first hearing on 14th April. Another patrol, led by Michael Keigwin, found, and checked 9 poacher camps.
In MFCA a total of 332 patrols were conducted (90 extended, 68 ambushes, 136 round and 38 marine patrols conducted during the last quarter). 3 AK 47 rifles, 245 AK47 ammunitions, 19 magazines, 25 Spears, 487 wire snares, 24 metal traps, 21 pangas/knives, 37 fish nets, 29 canoes, 53 oars, 33 lines of hooks, 1 axe, 1 bicycle, 2 pit saws and 128 pieces of timber were recovered. One of the poaching camps was destroyed by rangers in March 2014 in the Mupina area and one poacher found keeping the camp while his colleagues who had gone hunting was arrested.
Work continues in Southern Murchison Falls and more news will follow as this progresses
Taken as a whole the work carried out by UCF, with the assistance of its donors and supporters, will have been a very major contribution to UWA’s fight to reduce the illegal activities in MFCA, improve the conditions for the UWA rangers, improve the veterinary care of the wildlife, provide alternative means of income for ex-poachers and reduce incidences of human / wildlife conflict.