Amin Encouraged the Slaughter, Now Uganda Is Saving Elephants; Kampala's Zero-Tolerance Approach to Poaching Has Already Led to an 800% Rise in Numbers of the Magnificent Animals. Oliver Poole Reports on How It Is Stepping Up Its Fight

The Evening Standard (London, England), August 5, 2015 | Go to article overview

Amin Encouraged the Slaughter, Now Uganda Is Saving Elephants; Kampala's Zero-Tolerance Approach to Poaching Has Already Led to an 800% Rise in Numbers of the Magnificent Animals. Oliver Poole Reports on How It Is Stepping Up Its Fight


Byline: Oliver Poole reports

AT ITS worst, the soldiers roaming through Uganda's national parks were killing elephants with hand grenades: taking turns to pull the pin and toss their little bombs into the herds cowering amid the remaining undergrowth. Then the troops would drive up to the carcasses to hack out the ivory with machetes.

That was when the country had fallen into a state of near anarchy following the ousting of Idi Amin by the Tanzanian military in 1979. Soldiers from both sides were camped out across the country, killing the wildlife for food and profit.

The remaining rhinos were hunted down for their horns, which were sold as an aphrodisiac in Asia, or to make dagger handles in the Middle East. By 1985 not a single one remained in the country.

The decline in elephants was similarly precipitous. Before Amin's rule, and the civil war that followed, they had been so numerous, visitors would describe seeing herds cover the lush savannah stretching either side of the Nile. Some 35,000 were believed to populate the country. By the mid-Eighties about 1,000 were left.

"There was a total breakdown of conservation," Dr Akankwasa Barirega of the Ugandan wildlife ministry explained. "Elephants were being killed to trade the ivory; for food. There was no governance. It was chaos."

Today, Uganda has seen the largest increase in its elephant herds of any country in Africa: an 800 per cent rise to a population that presently stands at around 8,000 and is growing steadily. The herds are husbanded in the country's 10 national parks and the government has a zero-tolerance approach to any form of poaching.

So determined is Uganda to ensure there is no return to the free-for-all, a new wildlife law is being debated that would introduce a 20-year sentence for anyone caught trading animal parts.

It is a remarkable turnaround; a conservation success story almost unprecedented across a continent where the trend in elephant populations has too often been one of steady and tragic decline.

It is one with lessons that can be learned in other countries presently bearing the brunt of a poaching crisis that is causing more than a 100 elephants a day to be killed across Africa. It is also one that has produced a wildlife service keen to adopt the latest techniques to ensure that the revival of Uganda's wildlife continues. That is why it is so important that the country's leader, President Yoweri Museveni, has become the latest African head of state to join the Giants Club.

AT a ceremony at his official residence in Kampala, Mr Museveni signed our wildlife pledge, committing to enforce a ban on the trade in ivory for at least 10 years and to continue to stamp down on anyone involved in the smuggling of elephant parts. …

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