The Association for the Conservation of Bugoma Forest expresses concern over the increasing insecurity in Bugoma Central Forest Reserve and the continuous threat of destruction.
On Sunday 21st August 2016 a group of about 300 people led by a surveyor entered Bugoma natural forest claiming to be opening the boundaries of the land for Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, according to a title issued inside the protected reserve. The activity started in Nyakatete village from Kaseeta moving towards Nyakatete in Nsozi. By Wednesday they have cleared a length of about six kilometers that are ten metres wide, using chainsaws cutting everything including big mature natural forest trees.
The area is well known to be the habitat of the internationally endangered and protected chimpanzees, plus endemic Ugandan Mangabeys.
The National Forestry Authority responded on Thursday 25th August (after 4 days) by sending a police enforcement of three pick up and 20 policemen of the Environmental Protection Police Unit, who stopped the activity of clearing; however the police force withdrew on Friday and clearing restarted. On 23rd August the National Forestry Authority sent a communication to the Commissioner Land Registration, Ministry of Land Housing and Urban Development requesting to cancel the illegal Freehold Certificate of Title issued in the name of Omukama of Bunyoro Kitara and, subsequently, the leasehold issued to Hoima Sugar Factory Limited.
The affected area is a large portion of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve, the Muhangaizima block for about 8.000 hectares. Considering that there are less than 5.000 chimpanzees left in Uganda (of which about 500 are believed to be in Bugoma Forest) and considering the huge amount of natural rain tropical forest under threat of destruction, this is the biggest environmental disaster in Uganda for many decades and possibly at international level.
As a result of the escalation of insecurity and destruction, eco-tourism activities in Bugoma have been halted and nature walks cancelled, with losses for the State. Tourism is one of the top priorities for the Government of Uganda, while sugar cane expansion is not and deforestation implies losses of potential tourist attractions. Meantime, there is an escalation of illegal logging as the patrol by National Forestry Authority is no longer in place for security concern.
On 23rd August the Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Hon. Ephraim Kamuntu, wrote a communication to Ministry of Water and Environment, informing that a petition signed by 105 representatives of tour operators from the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) requested for urgent interventions to protect Bugoma Forest, the investments in eco-tourism and tourist accommodation. In the letter, the Minister says that “the reserve is one of the few remaining habitats and migratory routes for the endangered chimpanzees and other key wildlife species”, therefore requesting the urgent intervention of the Ministry.
We kindly urge all stakeholders involved to act responsibly, put into consideration that the forest is a public and international matter, which largely affects the future of the tourism sector as well as the local communities.