By Tobbias JOLLY Owiny
Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) at Murchison National Game Park Commissions River Aswa Wildlife Conservancy, the first ever privately-owned game park in Uganda.
Measuring 18sqkm in size, the Aswa Wildlife Conservancy is located on the northern bank of Aswa River at Arana village, Nyamokino Sub County, Nwoya District, Northwest of Murchison Falls National Park.
The land is part of the former Aswa-Lolim Game Reserve, a wildlife reserve in northern Uganda that provided dispersal area and migration corridor for ungulates such as elephants, giraffes, buffaloes and so on. Ungulates are any members of a diverse group of primarily large hoofed mammals that includes odd-toed mammals such as horses and rhinoceroses, and even-toed mammals such as cattle, pigs, giraffes, camels, deer, and hippopotami. The park was later degazetted in 1972 by President Idi Amin’s government.
In 2013, UWA gave a concession to a private group known as the Aswa-Latoro Community Wildlife Conservancy to manage the important wildlife migration route in the area.
However, Dr William Olwoch Lalobo (Paragon Group director) who is a member of the group said he privately ventured into the idea by investing his resources to put up the facility since the group was taking forever to conclude on the plans.
“We have been keen to identify tourism as one of the fastest growing and biggest earning sector to government that the private sector has ignored. By ploughing our resources here, we hope not only to promote tourism in the country but conserve nature, an identity Uganda boasts of globally,” he told Saturday Monitor.
Although he declined to disclose how much money the Paragon Group invested into River Aswa Wildlife Conservancy, Dr Lalobo said that investments into wildlife and tourism had been abandoned for a government who was falling short of providing for the increasing number of tourists that visits Uganda annually.
Uganda has more than 1,078 bird species, constituting 11 per cent of the global population of bird species, 86 species of amphibians, 142 species of reptiles, 1,249 species of butterflies, over 600 species of fish and over 5,406 species of flora.
Murchison National park and the surrounding areas (including River Aswa Wildlife Conservancy) according to UWA provide habitat to 47 per cent of these rich varieties of flora and fauna.
The conservancy according to Dr Lalobo is home to a wide variety of wildlife including the rare and endangered porcupines, leopards, lions, elephants, antelopes, Uganda kop (approximately 700 individuals) and Jackson Hartebeests.
Humans, animal and plants each have an essential role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem of the earth and to conserve wildlife is to conserve the ecosystems in which the relevant animals (and plants) live since these ecosystems provide us with clean air, clean water, food, and shelter, he says.
You probably still have no idea what to expect when you come face to face with Aswa falls that lie in the heart of the establishment, a magnificent sight that tames and instantly turns a disappointed and jaded traveler into a raving fan.
The falls consists of a four-step waterfall formed by two layers of basalt rocks approximately four metres in height that controls the shape of the falls falling from six meters high from nine individual outlets.
The surrounding subtropical rainforest has more than 120 species of vascular plants and is home to the typical wildlife of the region.
“With careful planning and commitment of resources, the tourism sector has the potential to contribute and strengthen the fundamentals of our economy to enable Uganda harness her abundant opportunities, that is why it is a high time the private sector like us engaged in developing tourism,” Dr Lalobo said.
Annual figures in 2016 showed that tourism contributed up to Shs 5.1 trillion ($1.4bn) to Uganda’s export basket, the single highest foreign exchange earner contributing 23.5 per cent of total exports.
Construction of administrative headquarters and offices for the conservancy is currently at 55 per cent while an accommodation unit is also being built by the River Aswa Wildlife Conservancy in the middle of the conservation area.
Meanwhile, because River Aswa Wildlife Conservancy lies within the former Aswa-Lolim Wildlife Reserve and a former hunting ground that stretches to East Madi Wildlife Reserve, poaching has remained prolific, a challenge Dr Lalobo counts.
“We will work together with UWA to deploy scouts and rangers within and around the facility to ensure the security of animals. With the help of community members, we are trying to critically identify those said to be poachers and employ them as workers here in the various disciplines,” he said.
Besides creating a scheme where community members are compensated for damages against their farmlands by problem animals from the park, he adds that revenues generated from the park shall be shared to the district and UWA.
While there will be a functional monitoring and protection system (a well-trained and highly motivated ranger force), both armed and unarmed to counter poaching and human-wildlife conflicts, regular aerial surveillance shall be carried out as the boundary live fencing is maintained to reinforce security.
The conservancy, however, is seeking a deal with Nwoya District local government to work on the roads leading to the area since most of them are impassable at the moment.
It is only at Lake Mburo National Game Park that UWA and the AWF have partnered and are in the process of establishing a separate wildlife conservancy.
According to African Wildlife Foundation country director Uganda Suudi Bamulesewa, atleast Shs1bn has already been invested into the initiative. Government of Uganda through the line Agency UWA believes that there are unique animal species at Lake Mburo National Park such as zebras, impalas, eland, oribi, Defassa waterbuck, hyena, topi and
Suudi reveals that Karenga Wildlife Reserve bordering Kidepo National Park and Aswa-Latoro Community Wildlife Conservancy bordering Murchison National Park have been marked by government and are to be developed into wildlife conservancies.
Dr Eric Enyel, the UWA acting director for Murchison Falls National Park while commissioning the facility said the establishment of the park is a big relief to UWA.
“This park will save us from the worries of providing a migratory area for the animals such as elephants, antelope family and buffaloes, whose population has rapidly grown lately at Murchison park” Dr Enyel said.
Just as UWA regularly transfer animals across national parks within the country to manage their population, Dr Enyel said animals whose populations are in excess at Murchison will be moved to River Aswa Conservancy.
“We inspected and okayed the conservancy and we are set to immediately do habitat analysis to find out if unique animals such as chimpanzees and gorillas can survive in the environment before we move them,” he stated.
He added that UWA was proud to have on board the private sector in a partnership to promote human-wildlife co-existence to preserve Uganda’s rich natural heritage.
“This conservation effort and partnership will contribute towards a greater social and human development. We are certain that it will provide a powerful example of the benefits in terms of income that wildlife can bring to landowners than dependence on the unreliable agriculture,” Bamulesewa said.