The community comes together to build in Murchison Falls National Park

We are delighted to bring a very positive update from our ground-based conservation partners the Uganda Conservation Foundation (UCF), who DSWF has supported since 2001 and who have worked hard to recover the wildlife populations and habitats of Murchison Falls National Park in north Uganda, while fighting poaching across the park.

Thanks to the ‘Recovery of Murchison Falls National Park’ programme, large areas of the park are now far better patrolled and protected, resulting in a fantastic recovery in wildlife and tourism numbers. Whilst there is still lots more work being done to expand and improve anti-poaching, with the support of DSWF, UCF is working with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to help the communities north of the park to develop, as they live so close to the wildlife.

The Lord’s Resistance Army sadly wreaked havoc for decades, with many of the subsistence families north of the park being badly affected. Despite peace for a decade now, the relationship between the park and local people has always been a negative one. Cries of elephant crop raiding from the communities were matched by incredible levels of poaching and gunshots fired at rangers over those decades. It’s unfortunately a scenario that makes things difficult for everyone, including the regional and national economies. With tourism being largest contributor to GDP in Uganda and Murchison being a top ten national park, the time has come to ensure the partnership between the communities and the park changes for the better.

Since the beginning of the year, UWA’s community conservation department has been working with families north of the park to break the cycle. Youth from the area have been offered sponsored vocational courses, each course resulting in paid apprenticeships and potentially a job. Over 80 youths have already benefited from the programme.

Working with industry leaders such as Mutoni Construction and Plascon Paints, men and women from the community aged between 18 to 26 years old have completed courses, and many are already benefiting from employment in the park and other projects across the region.

Renovating two old buildings – the youth have experienced a huge amount and achieved so much.

With education levels relatively low, this is the generation to ‘skill up’ and employ. Meanwhile UWA is ensuring that 20% of park revenue (from gate entry fees) goes into community development, ensuring the region’s youth get an education beyond primary and early secondary school levels – for both boys and girls.

‘I can’t wait to celebrate kids from this area getting a degree!’
Wilson Kagoro, UWA Warden in Charge of Community Conservation Warden.

It is never easy to find jobs or apprenticeships. However, UCF and UWA are running many projects in the park and wherever possible, the community are now heavily involved.

One such project is building the Law Enforcement ‘Joint Operations Command Centre’ (JOC) where all park operations will be managed with UWA responding to incidents such as anti-poaching, veterinary rescues and tourism cars crashing.

The building of the JOC needed 20,000 bricks – and so a hydrofoam brick-making course was put on for over 35 youths. Under experienced supervision from a senior foreman,, the team of apprentices and employees are now building this facility and are also renovating two accommodation blocks in which they can live while doing so. Another team, also from an area where serious poaching originates, were trained into industrial painting. This team has already painted the accommodation blocks, the local clinic and are now painting the JOC, ablution blocks and far more.

Brick-making, brick laying, setting a foundation, metal work, team work, supply chain management, stock keeping… the list goes on!

The Chief Park Warden has coined the strategy ‘changing lives, giving opportunity and making long term friends’. He is right. Historically the Wardens were hated by the communities, but now these youths regard the Wardens as mentors and friends. This is progress indeed.

Last year’s runner up of the DSWF Conservation Champion Award, Eric Erycel, puts in particular effort.

‘These kids could be laying the snares that trap the animals that I am working so hard to save. We have to help them and the community at large become our partners in conservation, for future generations and to sustain the success we have had through the Recovery of Murchison Falls programme.

Some 15,000 poaching snares that have been recovered from the area and have been buried in the foundation slab of the JOC – never to be used again.

Well known poaching groups have approached the park management to find alternative employment from poaching, they all recognise Murchison Falls is now far more professionally managed, and prison holds no future for their families.

So far 80 youth have gone through courses, with each course identified as being of a type where a skill could provide long term employment. In addition, local enterprises are being set up, including a tree nursery training facility – building towards planting one million trees in the area.

There is far more to come, but what we are sure of is that all of these youths are now ambassadors for UWA in the communities, and are firm friends of the park already.

We look forward to keeping you up to date!

In the middle is Julius Obwono, Warden in Charge of Law Enforcement – the Duke of Cambridge 2018 Africa Ranger of the Year, overall winner.