A number of players in the tourism sector say Queen Elizabeth National Park known for its wildlife may lose its international appeal because tourists can hardly see the animals.
The animals according to the tour operators seem to be “disappearing” from the tracks where they could easily be seen by tourists. The tracks connected by paved roads had been designed in a manner that visiting tourist would be able to watch some of the game while on games drives through the park.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is known for its wildlife. It is home to 95 species of mammal and over 500 species of birds including Cape buffaloes, hippopotami, crocodiles, elephants, leopards, Congo lions, and chimpanzees.
But Geoffrey Baluku, who grew up in Kasese near this park and has since become a tour operator in Queen Elizabeth National Park is sounding an alarm bell saying the animals have disappearing in what appears like mass migration.
//// Cue In “ Invasive species
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The problem, according to Baluku is that park authorities are taking too long to find a lasting solution to the invasive plant species that are rapidly expanding in the park affecting grazing areas of the wildlife.
The invasive plant species have according to Baluku affected the habitats of some of the animals have moved away from the known game tracks. He says tour operators are now prefer taking their visitors on launch cruise instead of game drives.
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Cue Out….they should be able to see the game”/////
Robert Baluku, Acting Principal Uganda Wildlife Research and Training Institute is concerned about the spread of invasive species.
He says they will have an impact on tourism because the animals are avoiding areas with spear grass, acacia hocki and lantana camara and congress weed.
/////Cue In “When you move to Queen Elizabeth….
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URN has seen a document suggesting the need to uproot over 33 hectares of lantana camara in Queen Elizabeth national Park.
Parthenium hysterophorus species of flowering invasive plant that is rapidly spreading through the park. This invasive plant also known as congress weed is said to have originated from the Gulf of Mexico and was first sited in Uganda in 2008.
It is threatening biodiversity, human and livestock health and wildlife in Queen Elizabeth. The congress weed is said to be covering 10 square kilometers of Queen Elizabeth National Park. It spreads to part of Mweya Peninsular.
The ministry of tourism had suggested to have the weed uprooted, dried and burnt in 2016 but the wed continues to thrive as it spreads further.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2010 warned that if left unchecked, the congress weed could threaten the continued migration of millions of animals across the plains every year.
It said the Congress weed invades natural pastures and it can reduce the amount of available forage to such an extent that carrying capacities of grazing animals can be reduced by up to 90%.
Queen Elizabeth National park also has another invasive spear grass and Dichrostachys cinerea also affecting the wildlife habitats.
Uganda Wildlife rangers have in the past resorted to burning the elephant grass as a control measure. Some experts have warned against burning of the spear grass saying the fire kills slow-moving animals like snakes and others species.
Robert Baluku has witnesses the burning of the park especially as helpless rangers try to control spear grass. His fear is that apart from burning not being a sustainable solution, it can become disastrous.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) which has been supporting the conservation authorities in Uganda to preserve biodiversity four slow moving animals caught in the fire.
/////Cue In” For the spear grass…
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The migration of the wildlife close to community areas according to Baluku comes with the danger of fueling conflict between communities and wildlife.
Andrew Sseguya, Executive Director Uganda Wildlife Authority acknowledges the fact that invasive plants species are spreading but denied that animals have disappeared from Queen Elizabeth National Park.
He says in 2010 the population of elephants was 2500. He says the elephant population is now 2913.
Seguya says there are 5900 elephants in the country and that Queen Elizabeth National park hosts more than a third of the elephants in the parks.
He says the population of buffalos has equally increased from 8200 in 2010 to over 15, 770. He says Queen Elizabeth has over 12000 Uganda kobs out of the 50,000 kobs in Uganda. ///// Cue In “What has happened is
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Uganda Wildlife Conservation Society which has been in conservation efforts for over fifty years says invasions by introduced species are the third biggest threat to biodiversity in Uganda today after habitat loss and unsustainable utilization of natural resources.
Geoffrey Mwedde, the Regional Manager at Wildlife Conservation Society says there is a danger that the invasive species in Queen Elizabeth National Park will transform its ecosystem structure and functioning. He says the government should invest resources to ensure that the Wildlife habitats are protected.
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For Robert Baluku says instead of using fire as control measure against invasive plant species, the invasive plants can be turned into use like tuned them into biomass energy.
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Sseguya says Uganda Wildlife Authority in collaboration with National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) are to carry out research on how to deal with invasive plant species.
He insists that Queen Elizabeth is the most visited National Park. He argues that people wouldn't be visiting it that much if there were no animals to see.