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Uganda is rich in wildlife, mountains, forests, verdant national parks and natural resources. But this wealth is under threat from rapidly growing populations, development and businesses vying for the country’s resources. David Dulli, country director for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Uganda, is at the helm of it all. Rebekah Funk spoke to him about the issues facing Uganda, and what role tourism has to play in conservation efforts.

REBEKAH FUNK: What are some of your biggest concerns about wildlife conservation in Africa?

DAVID DULLI: I am most concerned when I see human encroachment in remote areas; when I see some of the weak policies to counteract those activities; when I see weak institutions. That worries me a lot, particularly when I put it in context with an increasing population — 3.5% in the Albertine Rift and a country average of 3%, which is really high.

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Man on a mission: WWF Uganda’s David Dulli

It makes me feel that if something is not done, we are going to lose everything. In 100 years there will be nothing to talk about — no elephants…destruction of important ecosystems like the Rwenzori Mountains [where the 7 Summits Africa team will climb two peaks over the coming week: Mt. Speke and Mt. Stanley]. All this spectacular natural heritage will be devastated and it will be hard to believe we lived on this planet and did these things.

What is WWF Uganda working to do to promote conservation, education and sustainable tourism and business in a local context?

WWF Uganda is working through three programmes to implement our five-year strategic plan: the first programme is forest and biodiversity; the second, fresh water; and the third, climate, energy and extractives.

In implementing those programmes we integrate — as much as possible — the social and economic development issues, rights based approach and education for sustainable development.

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Mt. Speke in Uganda’s iconic Rwenzoris mountain range


We also work with government to strengthen and enforce implementation of policies and regulations. We also engage in policy analysis and development. Our role in the recent past has shifted to support civil society than to do projects ourselves.

For the last few years, we have moved from running programmes ourselves on the ground, to strengthening and empowering local voices to manage their affairs rather than looking to WWF as an international organisation to do it for them.

How do you convince big business, particularly those in the fossil fuel industry, to have a mind towards conservation?

In Uganda, there was a discovery of oil that’s estimated to produce more than 20 billion barrels of oil over the next 20 years. This attracts infrastructure development and socio-economic and environmental impacts that are important to tackle. For example the launch of [$3.55 billion-crude export] pipeline that runs from Uganda up to Tanga in Tanzania. This 1,445km crude oil export pipeline will pass through a number of important ecosystems. Additionally the oil fields in Uganda are located in the Albertine Rift which is a hotspot biodiversity conservation area in Africa. There are also overlaps of these oil fields with protected areas such as Murchison Falls National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park and other central forest reserves.

It is a focus of WWF to work with oil companies to mitigate the potential social-economic and environmental impacts of the oil industry. Our approach has been non-confrontational but constructive engagement, with science and information. Through this, we have managed to mobilise civil society organisations at a national level, which are now carrying out advocacy at a local level.

We are also working with community and cultural groups within the areas where oil exploration activities are taking place to ensure they know their rights, roles and demands. And we are also empowering them on how to engage with government and oil companies.

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Mt. Stanley in Uganda’s Rwenzoris mountain range


We also realise oil and gas exploration is happening along the border of Congo as well, and this cross-border aspect is very important to WWF. Virunga National Park and Rwenzoris are World Heritage Sites, Ramsar sites and national parks, all related to the water systems of the Nile and the Congo Basin. If oil and gas exploration and extraction is happening in the Queen Elizabeth conservation area, how would this effect Virunga, the oldest national park in Africa? Both Uganda and DRC are signatories to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention and are obliged not to be engaged in activities that endanger a cross border world heritage site. We are undertaking a study to inform the advocacy work that we should engage into with the government of Uganda.

The 7 Summits Africa Challenge team aims to promote East Africa’s adventure and eco-tourism opportunities, because they believe tourism plays a key role in conservation. Can you talk a little about sustainable tourism as a conservation tool?

Out of all the livelihood projects we have run, the end result is that these activities are still resource consumptive in some way. But when you look at tourism, you could say the level of resource consumption is much less. Tourism is a very competitive land use option as compared to productive activities like agriculture. Therefore if we are to pursue sustainable development, the best option is to go for sustainable tourism which is less dependent on resource off-takes.

Our current goal in the Rwenzori Mountains, for example, is to develop sustainable financing for the park and the communities surrounding it, so it’s cool that the 7 Summits team is going to climb two of the peaks in the park (Mt. Speke and Mt. Stanley).

In addition, we have worked with the government and other stakeholders in the private sector, and developed a new brand manual and a marketing strategy for the Rwenzori as a unique destination: a high-altitude park with alpine wetlands, high biodiversity (Albertine Rift and Rwenzori endemics), connected to a network of protected areas with various tourism experiences. We shall be launching this new brand early next year — our prediction is that, if it’s done well, the park will be as competitive as other mountain national parks such as Kilimanjaro or Mt. Kenya. We need to attract more visitors, to tell them how to get there, and what’s unique that they can’t see elsewhere.

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Gorilla trekking in Uganda is a key economic driver


Tourism and working with the private sector is key: private-public partnerships. What we’re seeing here with the 7 Summits Africa expedition is a good example. We should be able to have private sector engagement that improves the visibility and creates thriving national parks, full of visitors.

From WWF’s perspective, we’ll raise as much funds as possible for the parks to manage these areas, to ensure communities are working in harmony and benefitting economically, to empower these communities to be involved in decision making and show their culture to the world, and to increase international awareness and investment in preserving these important areas.

Find out more about WWF Uganda’s work here.