The habitat of 500 chimpanzees in Uganda’s Bugoma Forest Reserve is said to be in danger. Conservationists and local residents are fighting to stop a company that has begun clearing trees in the protected area for a sugar plantation.
A not-for-profit group, Rainforest Rescue, has taken up a campaign to sensitise the people, while urging President Yoweri Museveni to keep land out of the hands of doubtful investors and protect the forests instead.
Uganda was long considered the “Pearl of Africa”. Yet, in recent decades, the country has lost one of its greatest treasures: its forests. It is believed that, 25 years ago, half of the country was still covered by forest – now it is only 11 percent of it left. Enviromentalists fear that it will be gone within 10 years – and with it, the habitat of the country’s 5,000 remaining chimpanzees.
Not even protected areas are safe from wholesale deforestation, often for oil palm and sugar plantations, say conservationists. In August 2016, for example, the Bunyoro Kingdom leased an area of 8,000 hectares within the Bugoma Forest Reserve to Hoima Sugar Limited for 99 years. Observers fear that this could lead to the destruction of one-fifth of the protected area. The kingdom had been granted a title to the land by the government only days earlier, it was gathered.
Shortly thereafter, workers cleared a trail several kilometers long into the reserve. According to a newspaper report, journalists documenting the clearing were threatened by workers armed with machetes, bows and arrows.
“They know they are doing illegalities and that is why they are moving with arrows to harm whoever tries to interfere,” said forest supervisor, Robert Busiku.
While legal action by the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) prompted the revocation of Hoima Sugar’s concession, the forest is not yet safe, sources say.
“The local people need all the support they can get to preserve the forest that is central to their lives for future generations,” says Joan Akiiza of NAPE.
A letter addressed to Mr. President reads:
To: The President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni
Dear Mr. President,
A sugar plantation is threatening Bugoma Forest Reserve. Hoima Sugar Limited had begun clearing the land after obtaining a 99-year lease by dubious means.
Conservationists and local residents are fighting to preserve the forest. The villages depend on the forest with regard to food, medicinal plants, water and the occurrence of wild animals.
Bugoma Forest Reserve is home to around 500 endangered chimpanzees. 23 mammal, 225 bird and 260 tree species are known to occur in the protected area. The destruction of the habitat would lead to the extinction and displacement of species in the region.
We call on you to keep investors such as Hoima Sugar Limited out of Uganda’s precious forest habitat.
Please protect Uganda’s last remaining forests.