The outbreak of the COVID19 pandemic in Uganda necessitated a nationwide lockdown in a bid to curb the spread of the deadly virus. The lock down resulted into closure of markets, travel restrictions, border closure, which in turn affected the essential economic activities of many households especially the rural pastoral communities around Kidepo Valley National Park in Karamoja region, North Eastern Uganda. According to the RAPID ASSESSMENT OF COVID-19 IMPACTS IN KARAMOJA, UGANDA, August 2020 “The COVID-19 measures resulted in a serious food security problem in Karamoja.

File Photo: An Ostrich, an endemic species to Kidepo Valley National Park

The livelihoods of the communities were further worsened by the outbreak of desert locusts which entered Uganda from Kenya via Karamoja sub region in February 2020 and ravaged crops, destroying livelihoods of the communities.

Left uncertain on how to survive the communities have encroached on Kidepo valley National park “Uganda’s Virgin Park” to hunt for wild animals for food.  According to estimates from Uganda wildlife Authority, between February and June 2020, (period under Total COVID 19 lock down) over 367 poaching cases of poaching were recorded in the country’s national parks which is twice the number recorded in the same period recorded in 2019 (163). The Kidepo Valley Landscape is the most isolated national park in Uganda and stands out as one of the most virgin ecosystems in Uganda. It is a habitat for some of the extinct species that are not found anywhere else in Uganda Parks and remains a key biodiversity habitat for over 77 mammal species including 20 predators (lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted hyena, and others.)

The landscape also known for its important birdlife in Uganda with up to 470 species 60 of which are found only in this landscape including Clapperton’s francolin, the rose-ringed parakeet and the Ostriches.

A cheater a key species categorized as endangered in Uganda

However, the threats presented by the COVID 19 lockdown and the Desert Locusts which restricted livestock trade and destroyed crops respectively have posed serious dangers for   this sensitive virgin landscape from the surrounding Host communities.

In such a wave of threats, community Volunteer Rangers have to be identified and empowered to assist in the mapping out of poaching hotspots and provide intelligence in combating poaching by the aid of an Environment defender toll free line. The toll free line will bridge communication gaps between communities and key actors in response to landscape issues.

Furthermore, women and young girls in Kidepo surrounding communities ought to be empowered in making and packaging of traditional local beads which are unique to the region to promote culture and conservation of the key biodiversity ecosystems. This will increase their household income especially for the women that play a key role in food provision in this region.

Together we can empower communities as first line of defense to combat poaching and save our Bio- diversely rich Kidepo valley park.

John Peter Okwi, Programs Co-Coordinator Environment Governance Institute (EGI-Uganda)