There can be no greater way to fight poverty, poaching, and habitat degradation in Uganda than to empower local Ugandans every day. Villagers living in northern Uganda have always hunted for food, others are engaged in agriculture, however new sources of income are being offered by the Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros cottoni) and what is perhaps the only kudu hunt in the region. SCI Foundation and our partners; the Karamoja Wildlife Conservation Partnership (KWCP) and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), have to make a clear distinction between legal hunting and poaching. The Uganda Kudu Project intends to do just that by empowering local Ugandans with the data necessary to derive income from harvesting perhaps the most elusive ungulate in all of Africa.
The wildlife achievements happening right now in Namibia, hailed as the, “greatest conservation success story in all of Africa”, can also be had in Uganda’s Karamoja region in the Kidepo Valley. The spiral horns of the greater kudu, also known as the Grey Ghost, grow over their lifetime and instantly attract the attention of any serious hunter traveling to East Africa. While kudu are not the most expensive game animal, it is nonetheless extremely enticing and unfortunately also attracts poachers. Enabling local Ugandan communities to utilize wildlife like kudu sustainably and benefit from hunting revenues starts with surveys and research sponsored by SCI Foundation.
Little to no data currently exists on the wildlife populations in the Kidepo Valley, especially regarding kudu. The science obtained from this SCI Foundation-KWCP partnership will be published online and given to the UWA to inform kudu management nationwide. Together, SCI Foundation and the KWCP expect to complete a full website and put data from recent field seasons to work at shining a light on the wonderful opportunities that exist in the Kidepo Valley.
Determining where kudu are in Uganda and how many exist is more difficult than it sounds. The greater kudu is called the, “Grey Ghost” for a reason; Tracks and scat have been documented although the ghosts have so far evaded pictures. Researchers have also documented the presence of klipspringers, not previously thought to range here. Estimating population size will be done using line-transect surveys.
A preliminary survey was completed in the highest-priority areas. Currently, researchers are conducting full line-transect surveys of the Loyoro and Lolelia sites with two wildlife biologists. Craig Kling and Karyn Coppinger, two Americans with extensive expertise in big game, will assist local UWA rangers and with the help of professional hunters, establish a sustainable kudu quota. This carefully created quota will be used to welcome hunters who wish to harvest kudu and combat poaching activity.
Habitat use is another valuable part of this kudu research as there remains a problem with human-wildlife conflict since herding and agriculture activity hinders wildlife management in the Kidepo Valley. Technical Advisor, Dr. Larry Hayden-Wing hopes to collar three female kudu and monitor how they utilize their habitat. In addition to the male kudu that will be collared and monitored the same way, researchers will obtain a much clearer picture of how habitat is influencing the kudu population. Village encroachment, agricultural activities, and even poaching will be tracked in order to assist the UWA in their mission of sustainably managing the ecosystem.
Uganda, like most of Africa, has a very strong hunting tradition that if encouraged will deliver benefits far superior to those offered by herding or photo tourism. Herding and agriculture is essential, however, left unchecked will continue to degrade the ecosystem and disrupt healthy kudu populations. Ecotourism photo tourism can extremely valuable, but are not economically feasible in these northern reaches of rural Uganda. Empowering the local communities to capitalize on their rich natural resources and hunting tradition while managing wildlife scientifically is second to none.