Working for birds in Africa


Tue, 02/05/2013 - 14:37 -- abc_admin

Mabira Forest, Uganda

Image Credit: 
John Caddick

Uganda is party to the following treaties: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection and Wetlands

The Uganda government has been sensitive to the state of environment. There are statutes in place that govern wildlife and the environment. All bodies of water, swamps, wetlands, mountains and forests belong to the government. Uganda has 10 National Parks and 10 game reserves. In the administrative structure, there is an environment officer even at district level. The national parks and forest reserves remain in their natural state. The law of Uganda declares it illegal for anyone to carry out any activity in these areas. The local communities are becoming increasingly aware about the need to conserve the environment.

Despite this, there are some issues: draining of wetlands for agricultural use; deforestation; overgrazing; soil erosion; water hyacinth infestation in Lake Victoria and poaching is widespread.

The Uganda Bird Guides Club has been Instrumental in communicating the importance of birds, birding and the need for conservation to the local communities.

The newly formed Uganda Birding Association based at Makerere University results from awareness activities carried out by the Uganda Bird Guides Club and Nature Uganda. Many Ugandans increasingly realise the importance of conserving birds as well as the environment. The planned birds Concert in July 2004 reached many Ugandans and will definitely have positive effects.

The African Bird Club made an award to Nature Uganda during 2002. Five undergraduates were funded to undertake short conservation related studies, including one on Grey-backed Fiscal Lanius excubitoroides. Although the grants were small for the students' first attempt at research, experience has shown that many build on this and not infrequently complete a higher degree and develop a long term interest in conservation. A further award in 2003 was made to Makerere University in Kampala for research on land use and biodiversity.

The African Bird Club 2003 expedition award went to Nature Uganda for a project on papyrus endemics which aims to gain a better understanding of the status and degree of threat facing these bird species. Field research was conducted in both Uganda and Kenya and will focus on resolving the taxonomic status of the Papyrus Yellow Warbler Chloroptera gracilirostris and on determining how human activities impact bird species endemic to papyrus.

The African Bird Club made an award to Makerere University in Kampala in 2004 to study bird populations as an indicator of changes in biodiversity due to agricultural intensification.

Further information about these and other projects can be found in the African Bird Club Bulletins which can be purchased via the website.

Conservation News

7th January 2008: The insanity of planting ‘a new’ Mabira

The issue of converting close to a third of Mabira tropical rain forest to sugarcane growing has caused an uproar. Scientific facts are likely to be replaced by arguments that will win debate. Have you ever imagined what would happen if a dose prescribed by a doctor for one patient was shared between ten patients or vice verse? What would happen if the civil engineer’s advice on ratios of materials for construction of a multi-storeyed  building were ignored because cement is expensive or mud substituted cement?

The present day domesticated plants have their origin in the wild; notably tropical high forests. They still have their relatives in these forests. These forests offer the greatest opportunity of genetic materials both for domestication and improvement of the existing cultivars. The new crops that we shall need for disease resistance, varieties to withstand extreme temperatures, saline soils due to irrigation necessitated by global warming all have answers in the wild. For instance coffee wilt is wiping out our coffee plantations; our fallback position will be the coffee in the wild. Kibale National Park contains wild coffee that can provide a solution.

Indeed, local residents are currently harvesting some of this wild coffee for sale.

A climax forest like Mabira has taken hundreds of years to evolve. It has gone through several stages of succession, rain and soils being the most influencing factors. Once such a stable climax forest is established, it begins positively influencing the micro and macroclimate of the area in terms of humidity, temperatures and possibly rainfall regimes. To state that one can plant a similar forest elsewhere is ignoring scientific facts to say the least. Every forest ecosystem is unique in terms of biodiversity, ecological importance and location. The services offered by the forest are unique. Each plant and animal that lives there is unique.

Many new drug trials have been made in apes that primarily dwell in forests. A chimp that lives in Mabira looks the same as one that lives in Kalinju forest but they slightly differ in their genetic make-up. So they can be used for different drug trials.  This diversity in the same species is evident even in human beings. Take for instance people who have been constantly exposed to HIV but continue to test negative, a case in point being discordant couples. This is a case of speciation within the same species, evolutionary process in progress. This makes members of a species though looking the same but slightly differing genetically. This is the reason why we must have diversity in a natural forest.

The animals that live in a given forest have a home range, territory within which they meet their basic needs. I am wondering whether it has been scientifically proven that the forest that which remains after the Mabira giveaway will suffice the requirements of resident and visitor animals. Most crops depend on pollinators to bear fruits, most of which reside in forests and depend on various plants for their needs. It is not  clear whether the forest to be planted as a replacement will cater for this need. Conversion of a tropical high forest into sugarcane entails destruction of an ecosystem, which has been home to many organisms. Some of these once harmless creatures will turn into serious crop pests and problem animals once their ecological habitat is destroyed.

One argument has been that the sections of the Mabira forest to be allocated are occupied by poor quality timber species like the paper mulberry. A colonising forest is not expected to have high quality timber. It suffices to say that the soils in these previously encroached areas are forest soils and will enable quick forest succession. However, it is important to note that timber production is one of the peripheral uses of a natural forest.

A natural forest is conserved for ecological reasons other than that of timber production; a lesson which proponents of Mabira giveaway need to know. Mabira located in between two big towns of Kampala and Jinja can be a major tourist destination for both local and international tourists. Mabira is one of the islands of solace where people will be or are already spending and helping this country earn revenue and create jobs.

I am still not convinced that Uganda has a comparative advantage in agro-processing than other countries. Tourism is one of the industries where we enjoy a comparative advantage over others. The threat of global warming as a result of too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not only real but also already affecting us. Temperatures are increasing as evidenced by receding snow on Mt. Rwenzori and Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Uganda is one of the least prepared countries to mitigate and adapt to the effects of this phenomenon. It would therefore be insanity to remove one of the biggest carbon sinks in this country. There is no way the envisaged planting of sugar cane can be better than conservation of Mabira given values of direct goods and indirect services and aesthetic values of the natural forest. An alternative land should be found for the sugar project.

22nd December 2007: Giveaway Not Yet Resolved

PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni has resurrected the controversial Mabira Forest giveaway debate, telling the NRM Parliamentary Caucus that the issue is yet to be resolved. Presenting his 11-page statement on industrialisation to the Caucus on 17th 12-2007, President Museveni urged them to take a decision. 

"Those opposing industrialisation, apart from being enemies of NRM, are, in particular, enemies of the youth because they are the ones who need these jobs. I can no longer tolerate this. I will mobilise the youth to smash politically all these cliques obstructing the future of the youth and the country," Mr. Museveni said.
The President also defended Mehta's request for the acquisition of 7,100 hectares of Mabira Forest, to be turned into a sugarcane plantation, saying the investor only wanted some land in the under-utilised part of the forest. "Mehta wants to expand his factory in Lugazi. He wanted some land in the under-utilised part of Mabira because there was no alternative land nearby and we could not shift the factory. Criminals and charlatans kicked up lies and even caused death of people in Kampala. We suppressed the thugs. This issue should be resolved," Mr. Museveni's statement reads in part.

A clandestine government plan to give away 17,540 acres, nearly a third of the forest to Mehta, drew strong resistance from environmentalists and the public. 
Sporadic riots broke out in the country in April this year, claiming the lives of one Indian and two Ugandans. But more than eight months later, no official government position has been reached. However, in October, Finance Minister Ezra Suruma announced to the world that the government had dropped the controversial plan to give away part of Mabira forest.

This was at a dinner meeting hosted by the South American President of the Republic of Guyana, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, in Georgetown. The President's announcement therefore appears to contradict Dr Suruma's declaration. The Caucus is yet to debate President Museveni's document, experts say that should members endorse the Mabira giveaway as part of the industrialisation agenda, it will be a setback for environmental activists who have crusaded for months against the giveaway of the forest. 

Ecological experts have argued that razing part of Mabira would threaten rare species, dry up a watershed for streams that feed Lake Victoria and remove a crucial buffer against pollution of the lake from two industrial towns.

Talking about his 'vision' for an industrialised Uganda, the President told the Caucus that NRM must find the answers to what he described as 'bottlenecks to the much-needed rapid industrialisation of the country'. "I need cohesion from all you [MPs] on this matter. This is where the future of the country lies. If we don't industrialise the country, where shall we get employment for the youth?" Mr. Museveni asked.

He added: "Some of the industries need big chunks of land; examples of this are sugar, palm oil, bio-fuels etc. Some don't need too much land. We need and we are capable of having both." Available figures calculated by Environmental Alert show that the cost of cutting away part of Mabira in terms of carbon credit is estimated at $316 million. The value of the land is estimated at about $5 million and the value of the wood at another whopping $568 million. This means the public stands to lose almost $890 million [about Shs1.5 trillion) as a result of the overnment's plan to degazette part of the forest.

Source: Nature Uganda

21st November 2007: Mabira Forest To Stay, Says VP Bukenya.

Vice-President, Prof. Gilbert Bukenya, assured environmental activists and donors that Mabira Forest Reserve will not be degazetted for sugarcane growing. 

“We are a democratic country and had to listen to the people.’’ Bukenya was addressing journalists at the Nile Resort in Jinja on 17th-11-2007.“You can develop without disrupting ecology. It is possible to plant trees to replace those that have been cut down.’’ 

He cited the example of the ground on which the British Parliament stands, which he said was previously a swamp. “What we could look at is the entire ecological system and consider what would happen to the rest of the ecological system if some trees are cut down.’’ 

The Vice-President had earlier presided over the drafting of recommendations (The Jinja Declaration) that will be debated during the Commonwealth summit that starts in Kampala on 23rd -11-2007. The recommendations will also form part of the discussions at the UN meeting on climate change in Bali, Indonesia, next month. 

Bukenya said climate change in Uganda was manifested in the adverse weather and climate conditions “Between 1991 and 2,000, Uganda experienced seven droughts, compared to about seven during the period 1900 to 1970,’’ he said. 

“The last years have also witnessed an increase in intensity and frequency of heavy rains, floods and landslides in the highland areas as well as outbreaks of diseases.’’ 

The vice President called for action against climate change. 

“The most developed countries will be required to do more. This is not only because they contribute and continue to contribute to most of the causes and sustenance of climate change, but also because the UN framework on climate change emphasises differentiated responsibilities to address climate change effectively.’’ 

Bukenya also launched last year’s the National State of Environment Report and the fourth Global Environment Outlook report.

Source: Nature Uganda

8th November 2007: UK press says Mabira Forest was 'saved' by commonwealth summit.

Britain’s media has suggested that the decision of the Ugandan government to overturn plans to allow a sugar cane farm in the Mabira Forest was a political one to off-set criticism during the forthcoming Commonwealth Head of Governments Meeting (CHOGM) summit. The proposal to allow a 17,500 acre sugar cane farm by the Mehta Group had aroused huge international controversy as the forest is rich in biodiversity and home to more than 300 species of birds, 200 types of trees and nine different primates.

The Guardian newspaper in particular suggested the decision by Finance Minister Ezra Suruma was political. “Uganda is keen to avoid any controversy (during the summit),” Xan Rice wrote. “Domestically the planned land give-away had proved unpopular, though often less for environmental reasons than economic and racial ones.” The paper also points out that it is the second time this year that the Ugandan government has reversed plans to allow bio-fuel production on protected land. Last year it overturned a decision to allow a palm oil plantation on the Ssese Islands in Lake Victoria.

The news however has been welcomed by the British wildlife group, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. “This is a tragedy averted,” said Paul Buckley, head of the Africa programme at the Society. “There are plenty of places to grow sugar cane, but not many tracts of virgin forest left in Uganda. “The forest would have been irreversibly damaged had the give-away gone ahead. Now Uganda has a brilliant opportunity to really make the most of its wildlife jewels. The site is famous with eco-tourists and slicing it up made no economic sense whatsoever.”

The Times newspaper said the decision was also based on a report which showed that Uganda would earn more from eco-tourism in the forest than it would from sugar cane crops. The economic value of tourism in Mabira is estimated at more than $316 a year compared to less than $20 million for sugar cane.

The 74,000 acre wood is famous for species such as the rare Nahan Francolin, the Great Blue Turaco, the Blue-throated Roller, the Black-shouldered Nightjar and the Blue-headed Flycatcher.

But the Times also points out that destruction of the forest “would have been regarded as a breach of an agreement between the Ugandan government and the World Bank. “In 2001 the World Bank agreed to help finance the construction of a hydro-electric dam (at Bujugali) on the River Nile in return for a pledge to protect the forest.”

Source: The East African

29th October 2007: BirdLife Partners applaud Uganda’s decision to drop Mabira Forest give-away.

Conservationists across the BirdLife Partnership are welcoming news that the Ugandan government has dropped its plan to give away a third of Mabira Forest Reserve to provide land for sugarcane plantations. The announcement came on Friday 19 October 2007, through a statement from the Uganda Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. 

Mabira Forest Reserve (at over 30,000 hectares) is globally recognised by BirdLife as an Important Bird Area (IBA). The forest contains over 12% of plant species and 30% of bird species found in Uganda. The announcement follows months of intensive campaigning by a number of organisations, most notably NatureUganda (BirdLife in Uganda) with support from BirdLife’s Africa Division and by BirdLife Partners from a number of countries and territories. 

Achilles Byaruhanga, NatureUganda’s Executive Officer expressed delight: “I am excited that our effort to advocate for a better option for Mabira Forest Reserve has been recognised and the fact accepted that the forest is a critical resource for Uganda and globally. The achievement is also for the Ugandan people who stood firm and opposed what was a wrong policy decision" 

NatureUganda’s recent economic valuation of Mabira Forest Reserve is thought to have played an enormous part in the decision. The report showed clearly that the economic value of the forest if conserved, would surpass the anticipated economic value from sugarcane growing in future. Moreover, the report indicated clearly that alternative land for sugarcane growing is available elsewhere in Uganda, where there may be enhanced benefit to local communities and local economies. 

The list of ‘ecosystem services’ – livelihoods, clean water, food- provided by Mabira Forest to over 120,000 adjacent community members was another important finding in the report handed to the government by NatureUganda. The value of tourism also prominently featured. 

The BirdLife International Partnership through its national partner, NatureUganda, will continue to work with the Government of Uganda in the conservation of its national heritage. “We applaud the government of Uganda for making a bold decision in protecting its forest resources despite the intentions of the sugar company,” said Ato Mengistu Wondafrash, the chairperson of Birdlife’s Africa Partnership (2006-2007). 

The announcement made by the Ugandan government on Friday coincided with BirdLife’s Council for the Africa Partnership (CAP) meeting in Nairobi, where 23 African nations met and signed a petition opposing a proposed chemical plant on the shores of Tanzania’s Lake Natron, which threatens 75% of the world’s Lesser Flamingo. 

“We hope the interesting parallels between Mabira and Lake Natron are noted by the Tanzanian government – both support key species, both support a booming tourist trade and both provide crucial ecosystem services for associated communities,” said Dr Hazell Shokellu Thompson, Head of BirdLife's Africa Division. 

Source: BirdLife

10th October 2007: Give Forest To Mpanga School – Uganda Government.

THE Government has directed that two hectares of Mpanga forest reserve in Fort Portal, Kabarole district be degazetted and formally given to Mpanga Secondary School. 

The degazetted section is not core to environment conservation. The new directive by the Prime Minister, Prof. Apollo Nsibambi, also asks the environment and water minister, Maria Mutagamba, to suspend her earlier advice that the school applies for an occupational permit for the existing structures and later pursues degazettment. 

In a September 17 letter, Mutagamba had said the land, measuring 4.087 hectares, was still part of the central forest reserve. 

However, in his recent letter, Nsibambi wrote: “I am informing the authorities of Kabarole district to disregard the resolutions and action plan communicated in your earlier letter.”

The forest has been the centre of controversy between the National Forestry Authority and the school. Whereas the school argues that it needs the land to construct a laboratory and more classroom blocks, the forestry authority insists that the forest should remain intact.

Source: Nature Uganda

14th September 2007: Mabira: Government still consulting.

The Uganda Cabinet has not taken a decision on whether or not part of Mabira Forest should be doled out to a sugarcane planter, Parliament heard yesterday. 
But the revelation only spoke volumes about the government’s indecision in ending months of controversy over a proposal to allocate 7,100 hectares of the natural rain forest to the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Ltd (Scoul). 

Water and Environment Minister Maria Mutagamba told MPs that although no decision had been taken by the government “to either degazzette or give out” part of the Mabira to Scoul “or to any other person”, a Cabinet sub-committee created to discuss the proposal was yet to conclude its investigations upon which the government can make a decision. She begged MPs to wait until that decision is made. 

But her statement fell short of MPs’ expectations, who only a week earlier had been informed by the junior Water and Environment Minister Jennifer Namuyangu, that Cabinet had finally reached a decision on whether it would gift sugar baron Mehta with free land from Mabira. Ms Mutagamba’s statement only served to inflame the anti-Mabira giveaway crusaders in the House. Led by Kitgum Woman MP Beatrice Anywar, also the opposition shadow environment minister, MPs shot down Ms Mutagamba’s two-page tale and questioned why the government had made no decision more than five months since sporadic riots broke out in the country claiming the lives of one Indian and four Ugandans over the proposal to give away the forest. 

“From April to September and no position has been taken?” a visibly furious Ms Anywar questioned. “It keeps us speculating and you are pushing us back to the streets if this problem is not settled,” she warned. Ms Mutagamba pleaded that the Cabinet had failed to take a decision over the giveaway “because there is still insufficient information,” but only provoked more inquest from the MPs. Mr Patrick Ochieng (Bukhooli) picked issue with the Cabinet subcommittee and doubted whether it would provide any useful information. “I am a little bit discouraged. The minister said the government carried out wide consultations of all stakeholders including forest experts but there was still missing information,” he said. “So you really wonder what type of information is this sub-committee going to present?” 

Mr Ochieng said it was evident the government was “dillydallying.” “I have always believed the Minister [Mutagamba] is not in charge of her ministry,” Ms Anywar told Daily Monitor after the sitting. “Her statement is not comprehensive, is not final and is only defensive. What I know is that they [Cabinet] are waiting for the President to make a decision on this matter. They have no control.”

The development, Ms Anywar said, will arm environment activists of the Save Mabira Crusade, a coalition of civil society groups opposed to the giveaway, with ammunition to boost “Phase II of our opposition crusade.” In April violent protests to save the forest led to five deaths and formed Phase one of the Save Mabira Crusade. Ms Anywar said the battle to save the forest continues.

Source: Monitor

20th August 2007: 50 indigenous tree species restored in Mabira Forest

ABOUT 50 indigenous tree species that had diminished in some parts of Mabira Central Forest Reserve due to encroachment have been restored, a new study has shown. The study, carried out early this year by the former Commissioner in the Ministry of Environment, Mr Peter Karani, shows that even a host of birds and wild animals that had abandoned the area have began returning. This was revealed to the State Minister for Environment, Ms Jessica Eriyo, last week during her tour of Mabira Forest.

The Lakeshore Range Manager - where Mabira falls, Mr Reuben Arinaitwe, told the minister that the forest fog which had also disappeared has been regained.

Mabira Forest Reserve (at over 30,000 hectares) is said to be home to 30 per cent of all the bird species in the country. Over 300 bird species, including the endangered Nahan’s Francolin Francolinus nahani are found in Mabira.

The restored 35 hectares were reportedly degraded by Sugar Corporation of Uganda Ltd (Scoul) plantation workers who had resorted to growing maize but the National Forestry Authority (NFA) took it over in early 2005 and replanted trees.

According to NFA officials some of the restored indigenous trees include Sopium Eliipticum(Musasa), Maesoposis Eminii(Musizzi), Mondomonora myriastica, Funtumia Elastica, Celtis Mild Braedii and Alstonia Bonei among others.

Source: Monitor

10th July 1007: Conservationists call for Ugandan government to halt forest ‘give-aways’.

Kampala, Uganda: The fate of Mabira Forest Reserve – home to 30% of bird species found in Uganda - continues to hang in the balance as President Museveni and some elements of the Ugandan government attempt to hand over a quarter of its area for sugarcane cultivation. BirdLife International and NatureUganda (BirdLife in Uganda) continue to argue that the economic benefits of retaining Mabira in its present form, will easily exceed the ‘short-sighted’ gains quoted by the government in the proposed forest ‘give-away’.

Mabira Forest Reserve (at over 30,000 hectares) is listed by BirdLife as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and contains over 300 bird species, including the endangered Nahan's Francolin Francolinus nahani. The forest is also home to nine species found exclusively in the region including Grey-cheeked Mangabey Lophocebus albigena johnstoni, a recently identified endemic primate subspecies.

In order to convey the enormous value of retaining Mabira Forest Reserve, NatureUganda has undertaken an economic study of the site, which they are now putting to the Ugandan government. Among the economic benefits of retaining Mabira that NatureUganda have outlined are:

1. Environmental services provided by Mabira Forest Reserve. Most notably the forest protects the water catchment area for Lake Victoria, Lake Kyoga and the River Nile. The forest also acts as a carbon sink worth $212 million USD at current carbon market prices.

2. Local livelihoods are supported via commodities that come from the forest, particularly from the sustainable harvesting of wood, food and medicines. The National Forestry Authority, the lead forestry agency in Uganda, last year estimated the value of the wood alone at $568 million USD.

3. Tourism at Mabira is another high-earner for Uganda: Mabira contributes 62% of the total revenue collected from visitors to Uganda’s Forest Reserves. Ecotourism is now Uganda’s second largest foreign exchange earner.

“The economic studies that we have undertaken clearly indicate that keeping Mabira Forest Reserve for reasons of conservation, constitutes a better land-use option than sugarcane growing when total economic value is considered,” said Achilles Byaruhanga, Executive Director of NatureUganda.

“If a quarter of Mabira is chopped down the effect on the remaining forest will be far-reaching, reducing the range of species, causing encroachment, erosion and siltation, and reducing its capacity to provide services, so there would be less water in rivers, less rain, less carbon intake, fewer tourists,” he added.

NatureUganda’s arguments for stopping the ‘give-away’ of Mabira Forest Reserve are supported by BirdLife International, a global alliance of over one hundred conservation organisations. “For the Ugandan government and Mehta Group [sugar company] to continue with a venture that is so very costly in terms of biodiversity loss and in terms of economic stability, is wholly deplorable.” said Hazell Shokellu Thompson, Head of BirdLife’s Africa Division. "However, we are confident that once all the facts have been reviewed, the Ugandan government will do the right thing for the Ugandan people and stop the ‘give-away".

"Uganda ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1993 and has a fairly good track record in upholding the treaty so far. The government has an obligation to continue to adhere to the agreement in the same way that many African and world nations do," he commented. “The sugar company itself also argues that it has a strict policy of environmental compliance which this venture quite obviously contradicts.”

Mabira is only one of a number of ‘give-aways’ proposed by the Ugandan government, believed to be planning a bill to amend the National Forest and Tree Planting Act that would give the National Forestry Authority  power to de-gazette protected forests without first going through parliament.

Source: BirdLife International News

23rd May 2007: Uganda shelves plan to give rainforest to cane farm

Uganda's cabinet has suspended a proposal to give away part of a rainforest to a sugarcane grower, the environment minister said on Tuesday, weeks after three people were killed in a protest against the plan. President Yoweri Museveni has faced vocal opposition over the plan to raze 7,100 hectares (17,540 acres) of Mabira Forest, a nature reserve  since 1932, and give the land to the privately- owned Mehta Group's sugar estate. 

Environment minister Maria Mutagamba told Reuters the government had shelved it, pending a cabinet committee study."There is a suspension until the committee reports back," Mutagamba said. "It is an extensive process -- it is not going to be
finished in a week or a month." 

A protest to save Mabira last month turned violent, leaving three dead, including an Indian man stoned to death by rioters. Mehta is owned by an ethnic Indian family. Mutagamba said the lands ministry would draw up a map of land available to investors in Uganda for sectors such as coffee, sugar, manufacturing or tourism, to see if there was alternative land for Mehta's sugar. 

Critics say razing part of Mabira would destroy a fragile environment -- drying up rainfall, threatening a watershed for streams that feed Lake Victoria and removing a buffer against pollution of it from Uganda's two biggest industrial towns. It also threatened species like rare monkeys and the prized Tit Hylia found only in Mabira and surrounding forests.

Source: Copyright 2007, Reuters

8th March 2007: Uganda weighs up value of its forest reserves

NatureUganda (BirdLife in Uganda) are among a number of organisations putting forward their defence to the Ugandan government over the apparent ‘give-away’ of forest reserves for large-scale production of sugarcane and palm oil. The events follow months of speculation surrounding the government’s attempts to push for forest ‘give-aways’ in the country, whereby government licenses allow private companies to convert gazetted forest reserves for intensive agricultural use.

“Losing these forests, particularly the Mabira Forest Reserve, would have enormous repercussions for both people and wildlife in Uganda.” said Achilles Byaruhanga, Executive Director of NatureUganda (BirdLife in Uganda). “As a result, we are working hard to ensure the government understands that holding onto these sites is of utmost importance, both in terms of conserving biodiversity and in terms of poverty reduction and economic growth.”

Mabira Forest Reserve is listed by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA). The forest contains over 300 species of bird, including the Endangered Nahan's Francolin Francolinus nahani. The forest also supports nine species of primate, a recently identified new mangabey subspecies in Uganda, Lophocebus albigena johnstoni and a new species of Short-tailed Fruit Bat.  “The fact that we are still discovering new species of large animals in this forest is a pointer to its value for biodiversity.” commented Byaruhanga. “The forest also serves as catchment for many of the region’s rivers, providing freshwater for over one million people before joining the Nile.”

The economics of retaining Mabira...

Studies have shown that the potential revenue from tourism alone at Mabira was in excess of the costs of managing the Reserve. Mabira Forest Reserve is located within 50 km from Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, and is surrounded by four major towns used by tourists.

Other economic losses involved in ‘giving-away’ Uganda’s forests are thought to include lost revenue from selective logging, a local impact on livelihoods and possibly from changing climate; the forests help maintain central Uganda’s wet climate – removing them could bring about drier weather negatively impacting on crop yields, conservationists have argued.

“Uganda has also been hit by a power crisis due to declining water levels in Lake Victoria as a result of poor environmental management.” added Byaruhanga. “We have to be wary of anything that aggravates this crisis such as cutting down the remaining forests in the catchments.”

Encouraging signs…

In recent weeks a number of regional newspapers have reported that Uganda’s President Museveni has directed the Ministry of Environment to establish whether it is environmentally and ecologically logical to degazette Mabira Forest. “It’s an encouraging development and shows that the government might be listening. The next step is for us to put forward solid reasons for holding onto Mabira by showing its enormous value as an economic resource to Ugandans.” said Mr Byaruhanga of the announcements.

NatureUganda are now conducting a more in-depth economic valuation of MabiraForest Reserve, based in part on the technical information developed as part of BirdLife’s Important Bird Area (IBA) Programme.

Source: BirdLife International

30th January 2007: NatureUganda condemns killing of Kampala’s scavenging storks.

Marabou Stork Leptoptilos crumeniferus nestlings were left to die in the sun on traffic islands in the heart of Kampala, after the city council chose the peak of the Stork’s breeding season to cut down their nesting trees. Council workers had been instructed to cut down trees near electricity lines. But according to Achilles Byaruhanga, Executive Director of NatureUganda (BirdLife in Uganda), the action breached the city’s own environmental guidelines. “Kampala City Council has an environmental officer who should have advised them on the right time to cut the trees. They should have waited until their chicks had grown.”

The Marabou Storks began nesting in large numbers in Kampala, after a near 20-fold growth in the city’s population over four decades combined with rising levels of affluence to overwhelm the city’s rubbish collection services. In 2004, City Engineer Abraham Byandala told The EastAfrican that only 30 percent of the city’s rubbish is collected. In the 1990s, a campaign to poison the storks was halted after a public outcry. In his 2004 interview, Mr Byandala told the The EastAfrican that if City Hall had the means, it would have “broken their breeding cycle by disrupting their nesting season”.

Whether or not this was the city council’s intention, Achilles Byaruhanga says that because it is now the peak of the breeding season for Marabous, “the actions could devastate the storks’ breeding success”. Conservationists point out that the scavenging storks are helping the city deal with its rubbish problems. While not universally loved either by city residents or visitors, they are also a tourist attraction. Achilles Byaruhanga says tourism is the second highest foreign exchange earner in Uganda, and having 200 bird species in the city centre is a huge opportunity for Uganda’s tourism industry.

Achilles Byaruhanga says the birds will leave only when the city improves its refuse collection services, taking up residence instead around dumps on the outskirts, where they will continue to perform a valuable scavenging role. “But according to the state of affairs today in the country and in the city, this may take very many years to come. In the meantime, the city council must not act irresponsibly and unprofessionally.

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