Protecting Wildlife in Uganda – Interview With EWCO
Elgon Wildlife Conservation Organization is a grassroots nonprofit conservation Organization in Uganda that works to ensure the delicate balance between the environments; biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in communities around protected areas in Uganda. We (virtually) met with one of its co-Founder, James, to learn more about wildlife conservation in the pearl of Africa.
Can you describe your role at Elgon wildlife conservation organization – what is your position, how long have you been with the organization and what your responsibilities are?
My name is James Watuwa. I am a wildlife veterinarian and conservationist from Uganda. I am also the Co-Founder and CEO at Elgon wildlife conservation organization for three years since its founding in 2018. I am in charge of overseeing strategic planning, administration, program and fundraising activities. We are a team of 6 staff.
EWCO staff checking on an elephant
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you come from, your background, and how you became involved with wildlife conservation in general and with Elgon wildlife conservation organization in particular?
I grew up in the Manafwa District of Uganda. My passion and love of animals began early in life while tending to our farm animals and home pets. I then decided to study veterinary medicine at university as I was determined to advance a career in conservation. Through studying veterinary medicine, I took classes with direct connections to wildlife conservation as I was getting more and more passionate about it. I also interned and trained at the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre.
After graduating, I started as a volunteer veterinarian with a reputable NGO working in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. I was involved in a lot of activities, including monitoring and protecting mountain gorillas. I was quickly offered a job within that NGO. During that time, I also developed my NGO management skills.
Every 5 years or so, the governments of Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) work together with gorilla conservation partners to do a complete population count of mountain gorillas. I participated in the last count that took place in 2018. This experience gave me relevant knowledge and experience in protected and tropical conservation areas data and information management including updating, use and contribution to databases as attributed to the roles that I was involved in this census as follows
With all that experience and acquired knowledge, a team and dedicated conservationists and I decided to found our own wildlife conservation organization: Elgon was born. I also still work as a zoo veterinarian at Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre.
How does Elgon wildlife conservation organization operate? How many volunteers do you work with on a regular, ongoing basis? What are their roles and responsibilities?
Our main mission at Elgon Wildlife Conservation Organization (EWCO) is to ensure the delicate balance between environments, biodiversity conservation and sustainable development within communities around protected areas in Uganda. EWCO works closely with the Uganda Wildlife Authority and conservation partners to achieve our mission.
Our main programs are:
- Wildlife health monitoring, research, and conservation;
- Law enforcement & Ranger training and logistical support to combat poaching;
- Gender equality and women’s empowerment for sustainable livelihoods and management of wildlife resources;
- Integrated Conservation with Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) and WASH (Water Sanitation and Hygiene) project for the Elgon region.
On a regular, ongoing basis EWCO works with up to five volunteers. With the current lockdown and restrictions on international travel, we are not able to host volunteers, so we are currently in need of online volunteers to help with admin tasks such as web-based work, document development, and grant writing.
Can you describe the importance of your cause and what challenges does it solve?
The rapid growth of the human population along with industrial and technological developments of human society over the past centuries has placed unprecedented demands on natural resources.These pressures are destroying biodiversity through habitat loss, poaching, illegal fishing, water pollution, and global climate change. This also increases the development of zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted from animals to humans).
I believe that these changes have potentially devastating consequences to animal resources and mankind if left unchecked. Consequently, I am personally and professionally committed to finding solutions to this dilemma. In addition, the co-existence of people and wildlife in proximity is one of the issues that we have to address as human populations continue to increase and settle closer to animals’ natural habitats. Therefore, there is a great need for projects that minimize human-wildlife conflict.
Inspired to finding solutions to these conservation challenges in Uganda, I co-founded Elgon Wildlife Conservation Organization. We are using a holistic and multi-disciplinary approach to promote biodiversity and wildlife conservation. We really envision a world, where nature, wildlife, and human beings live together harmoniously.
How has the Coronavirus crisis affected your work? What are the challenges it creates in the immediate, mid-term and long-term periods?
It is currently not clear how conservation will fare in the aftermath of the pandemic. Noise, air, and water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and the many other adverse human impacts on wild nature will rebound, but funding and other support for conservation will have to compete with a wide range of new priorities for financial resources due to the COVID-19 crisis, at least for the near future. On top of that, the pandemic crisis has evidently negatively impacted people in communities we work with whose livelihoods depend on ecotourism. 2020 is a year without tourists visiting Uganda and its natural park, and no tourists means no less income for neighboring communities.
EWCO protects mountain gorillas, an endangered species only found in that region of the world
What consequences of this crisis are you most worried about?
As the world grapples to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, endangered species are also fighting for survival. Although most endangered animals cannot get sick from this disease, they’re becoming additional casualties of the pandemic. EWCO is most worried about challenges arising from a lack of tourism and volunteers, as well as increased poaching in the absence of other economic sources. Conservation groups around the world are struggling right now to protect the most vulnerable animals on the planet.
EWCO has launched a special a COVID-19 Fund on GivingWay to help protect the mountain gorillas from the disease! Mountain gorillas are an extremely rare species that can only be found in that part of the world. You can also make a general donation and support the incredible work of EWCO HERE. Your donation, no matter the amount, will directly go to protect the gorillas, elephants, amphibians etc., from the Bwindi National Park area!
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