Primate tourism boosts Uganda’s economy by USD 16 million every year

At the recently-concluded second congress of the African Primatological Society (APS) hosted in Entebbe, Uganda, from September 3-5, 2019, the Hon. Ephraim Kamuntu, Minister of Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities, representing the Prime Minister of Uganda, Rt. Hon. Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda opened the event.

Sponsored by the Arcus Foundation, Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation, Houston Zoo, Ernest Kleinwort Charitable Trust, Solidaridad, San Diego Zoo, Primate Conservation Inc., Rare Species Fund, Zoo Victoria, Heidelberg Zoo, PASRES, and the West African Primate Conservation Action (WAPCA), the 3-day event brought together over 300 primate experts, including aspiring primatologists, researchers, conservation practitioners, tourism stakeholders, and policy-makers from Africa and across the globe to share ideas and research findings, to discuss this year’s theme: “Challenges and Opportunities in Primate Conservation in Africa,” and find ways to promote active participation of native African primatologists in the international primatology arena. With 250 out of the 312 delegates from 24 different African countries, the APS more than achieved its goal of providing an accessible platform for African primatologists, in particular, to collaborate, network, and discuss pressing challenges and issues, as well as opportunities and possible solutions facing Africa’s primates. The USA, Europe, UK, Asia, Australia, and Latin America were all very well represented at the conference as well.

Dr. Rugunda noted that gazetted protected areas and forests cover 20% of Uganda’s total land, he highlighted that Uganda’s leaders were dedicated to conservation, which is especially important given the competing demands for land-growing populations and a demand for energy. Uganda’s rich biodiversity includes 54% of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas; 11% of world recorded species of birds, constituting 50% of Africa’s bird species; 39% of Africa’s mammal species; and 1,249 recorded species of butterflies; among many other wildlife attributes.

Through a combination of efforts, he thanked UWA, conservation NGOs, and international supporters in particular that Uganda’s once decreasing mountain gorilla numbers have been reversed and are now showing positive growth. However, their habitat is threatened, which points again to why this conference is very important. Primates and their habitats are under threat from deforestation, disease, hunting for bush meat, poaching, and human-wildlife conflict. Rapid population growth is also a major problem facing Uganda’s protected areas, wildlife, and primates.

Kamuntu stressed the importance of protecting primates for conservation and sustainable development, saying it deserves a concerted multi-sectoral effort. He also noted that Uganda is very proud to host the second APS conference.

Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, APS Vice President, Founder and CEO of Conservation Through Public Health and Chair of the APS Conference 2019 organizing committee, provided an overview of the conference and thanked donors and partners for their support in making the conference possible and sustainable where reusable branded aluminum water bottles instead of plastic bottles and Gorilla Conservation coffee from farmers around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park were given to delegates. The event was also punctuated by  entertainment by the indigenous Batwa community of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

Kalema highlighted the importance of the conference in supporting African primatology and conservation of African primates, noting that one third of primate species occur in Africa, some of which are endangered or critically endangered. The APS 2019 conference video was also played, highlighting threats to primates of Uganda, which has over 15 species of primates.

Dr. Inza Kone, President of the APS and Directeur General of the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques in Ivory Coast, provided a brief background and overview of the APS. “Since 2012, prominent African primatologists have been working towards establishing a group that will promote more active and inclusive engagement of native Africans working in primate conservation and research, coordinate the efforts of African primatologists, enhance their experience and influence in their various areas of work and strengthen the impact of their conservation actions.” These efforts culminated in the formation of the African Primatological Society (APS) in April 2016. The APS held the inaugural meeting in Bingerville, Côte d’Ivoire, in July 2017.

The conference also witnessed a series of presentations by renowned primatologists and experts, including Sam Mwandha, UWA Executive Director, who put the importance of primates to Uganda’s economy into perspective by highlighting that 60% of UWA revenue comes from primate tourism. UWA receives around 60 billion UGX (equivalent to about 16 million USD) every year from primate tourism.

The APS conference witnessed rich presentations from researchers across Africa discussing African primates’ status on the IUCN red listing as well as the state of primatology in each of the 6 regions in Africa (East, West, South, North, Central Africa, and Madagascar). Sadly, there was a similar theme running through the discussions pertaining to each region, with primates across the continent coming under threat due to human activity. This perhaps set the scene for discussions the following day when delegates divided into groups depending on their areas of expertise. Key themes for day 2 included Conservation and Management; Ecology and Behavior; Diversity, Taxonomy and Status; Ecology and Behavior; and Health, Tourism and Education. There was also a special breakaway workshop to develop an action plan for the Red Colobus, which are the most threatened group of primates in Africa. Red Colobus monkeys are considered to be on Red Alert, facing an extinction crisis requiring urgent, targeted, and coordinated conservation action. Inspiring presentations on strides that have been made in building Ugandan capacity in primatology were given by prominent primatologists from the UK, USA, and Japan, Prof Vernon Reynolds, Dr. Jessica Rothman, and Professor Takeshi Furuichi.

Also present at the conference was the Japanese Ambassador to Uganda, His Excellency Kazuaki Kameda and the Mayor of Entebbe, His Worship Vincent de Paul Mayanja.

Representatives from the Uganda Tourism Board, UWA, Conservation Through Public Health, International Gorilla Conservation Program, Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, Volcanoes Safaris, Great Lakes Safaris, and Arcus Foundation engaged in a lively round-table discussion about opportunities and challenges for sustainable development through primate ecotourism, focusing on the Uganda experience.

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