Environmental Defenders are worried about increasing poaching and logging in and outside Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda.

As of 25 April 2020, the numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Uganda reached 75 with zero death registered so far.

In addition to the impacts of COVID-19 on the population health situation, measures put in place by the Ministry of Health under the directive of President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni to prevent the spread of COVID-19 continue to affect Environmental Conservations and Wild Life protection as well as livelihoods of dozens of local communities in the country.

Communities in the villages neighboring Murchison Falls National Park are taking the advantages of the temporary lockdown put in place by the Ministry of Health under the directive of the president of Uganda Yoweri Kaguta Museveni to remove animals and wildlife products from the park and other habitats where wildlife are abundant.

A group of farmers in Panyigoro on Friday the 25 April 2020 encountered poachers along Albert Nile River in Panyigoro, Pakwach district, but could not report to the authorities because they did not have a phone to call the police station in Akela trading Centre, according to one of the farmers we spoke to.

The poachers were targeting Hippopotamus, elephants, and rhinos across the river inside Murchison Falls National Park.

Environmental Defenders and wildlife conservationists we spoke to for this article said that they are worried of the increasing trends in poaching in and within Murchison Falls National Park citing that at least 2 Hippopotamus are being killed every week in different villages near Murchison Falls National Park, according to the conservation activists’ group.

The COVID-19 situation in Uganda is graduating into starvation, hunger, and general livelihood challenges across the country. Food prices in communities bordering Murchison Falls National Park have increased significantly since 1 April 2020 and many poor and vulnerable families who are the victims of the lockdown and night curfew directives and enforcement decree by the Ministry of Health under directives of President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni to prevent the spread of the Corona Virus do not know where their next meal will come from.

“I need to go to the garden every day in order to have food and plant more other crops since it a planting season. But the police will not allow me to move past 5 pm on my bike. But what will I do? my garden is very far from home and I need to leave home as early as 5 am to make sure I reach there at 8 am. Who will give my family food if I don’t go?” Muramuzi from Purongo-Got Apwoyo.

Muramuzi said that many people in his village are already struggling to get food and other basic needs as the price of essential commodities have increased beyond the normal market price before COVID-19 struck the country.

“If the police and armies continue to prevent us from going to the garden and we are not allowed to move in the neighborhood in search of food, there will be no option for us and we shall die from the gunshots by Uganda Wild Life Authority rangers. We need to work so that we can get food, I cannot wait to die with hunger when there is plenty of food in the park,” says Ole who relies on digging for money.

Conservation activists expects to see more poaching in the coming months if the economic situation doesn’t improve.

Environmental Defenders and conservation activists are undertaking activities to help the wildlife poaching and logging situation caused by COVID-19 by deploying Wild Life and Forest Guardians to halt poaching and logging both in and outside Murchison Falls National Park.

“Because of the vastness of the Murchison Falls National Park reserve, the area is currently largely unprotected, allowing for poachers to have free rein. By placing Guardians in strategic locations, such as along waterways and paths, and by detecting where poachers are present, we at Environmental Defenders together with Uganda Wild Life Authority (UWA) will be able to catch poachers and snares will be confiscated. This technology will monitor for sounds such as engines, gunshots, and hounds. The overall goal is to implement a scalable, real-time monitoring system for protecting and studying Murchison Falls National Park and another land outside the Murchison Falls National Park which is frequently used by wildlife. This will help reduce the loss of biodiversity and protect wildlife from poachers who are freely moving in search of food.” Says an activist group member we spoke to.

With the current insecurity and increasing poaching, Hippos will be lost from Lake Albert and Albert Nile River, a stronghold for Hippo in Uganda, before the end COVID-19 pandemic. Immediate action needs to be taken to halt this poaching, and Environmental Defenders is at a good advantage to do this together with the Uganda Wild Life Authority rangers and park wardens.

Photos taken in Murchison Falls National park by @Global Conservation

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