Uganda has boosted security in its national game parks to avoid a recurrence of incidents like last year’s kidnap of an American tourist Kimberly Endicott and her local tour guide, Jean-Paul Mirenge.
The Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Tom Butime told a group of EU envoys who are visiting tourist sites in Kanungu and the Rwenzori sub-region that Uganda’s national parks are safe to visit because the safety of tourists is given number one priority.
“I want to use this opportunity to assure the public and the international community that our parks are very safe and secure. The security of tourists in the parks is a high priority for the government and we shall continue to make strategic and operational interventions to ensure that our parks and other recreational facilities are safe for tourists,” Butime told the diplomats who also commissioned a 12-unit staff accommodation block at Ishasha inside the game park.
The Shs 325 million facility will aid rangers to fight poaching in the national park, and is part of a $1.3 million (Shs 4.8 billion) three-year program implemented in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC’s) Virunga National Park and Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park.
It also covers the training of judicial and law enforcement officers in both countries, the installation of camera traps inside the park and specialized training of wildlife crime analysts.
According to the EU press advisor, Emmanuel Gyezaho, 80 percent of the project cost was implemented in the DRC while 20 per cent is in Uganda. It was funded by the EU through the transboundary initiatives in the Virunga Mountains. The construction was implemented by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKES).
The new rangers’ outpost is expected to support rangers in securing wildlife from poaching as well as safeguarding tourists visiting the area, given that the park has reported incidences of kidnappings.
The Uganda-DRC border in Ishasha, Kanungu district is a known crossing point of illegal wildlife trade.
“Ishasha is famous all over the world for its unique tree-climbing lions but very few of them remain – I am told less than 30 – if they are not protected they will be no more and thus the area will become a scarcely attracting appendix of the Elizabeth National Park. I am sure we all do not want this to happen,” the EU head of delegation, Ambassador Attilio Pacifici said.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s second largest park and boasts of 95 known species of mammals including buffaloes, hippopotami, crocodiles, elephants, leopards, lions, jobs, old baboons and chimpanzees and over 620 species of birds. These make it highly susceptible to criminals and the ranger outpost will enhance security for wildlife and tourists.
Pacifici said that the Tourism, conservation, wildlife and environmental protection are very deeply interconnected themes and activities in the country that have been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He added that despite the many challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis, it also gave the county time to understand the importance and value of the tourism sector. The Ambassador raised concern about the growing incidences of illegal wildlife trade, with Uganda used as both a transit route and a source.