Protect Africa's endangered animals by earning locals a living

Uganda tourism boss highlights need for community pay-back as investment forum launches

Mike Pflanz
Wednesday 04 October 2017 21:00 BST

Efforts to safeguard Africa's endangered wildlife succeed quickest when local people earn direct benefits from its protection, the head of Uganda's tourism authority said ahead of a pioneering conservation finance forum.

Communities living near national parks and wilderness areas become the animals' 'fiercest protectors' once they start to make a living from them, said Stephen Asiimwe, the executive director of the Uganda Tourism Board.

In the past, governments rarely compelled conservation and tourism businesses to share their profits with locals, leaving them seeing no value in protecting wildlife from poachers or stopping chopping down trees for firewood.

But increasingly tourism firms are given deals to open lodges or run safari businesses only if they agree to a series of rules setting out regular pay-back for locals, and environmentally sustainable practises. Part of that can be quotas of jobs set aside for local people.

“Once people are able to benefit from the proceeds of these wilderness areas, they become their custodians,” Mr Asiimwe said. He gave an example of populations of mountain gorillas in western Uganda that tourists pay hundreds of pounds to visit.

“Gorilla numbers are rising fast, that's not the story you hear of other endangered animals in Africa. Why is that? It's because if you touch those gorillas, you're mincemeat. The local people become their fiercest protectors.”

Uganda this week holds a pioneering very high-level gathering of international tourism entrepreneurs, financiers, and conservationists organised by the Giants Club, an initiative of the conservation charity Space for Giants of which the Independent's owner Evgeny Lebedev is the Patron.

The Giants Club Conservation and Tourism Investment Forum will showcase a series of new opportunities for responsible businesses to open new for-profit enterprises that protect the environment and support local communities. Yoweri Museveni, Uganda's President, will host the event.

Uganda's efforts to show its people the benefits of conservation make the investment propositions even more attractive, Mr Asiimwe said.

“Investment follows stability,” he said. “The stability of any particular environment depends on the relationship between the existing community and the conservation organisations who want to come in. Once the buy-in [of local people] is there, stability is assured.”

These new tourism concessions are available in well-known locations like Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls National Parks, as well as lesser-visited ones like Kibale, with its chimpanzees, or Kidepo Valley, on Uganda's northern border.

All conservation-compatible business proposals will be considered, but it is expected the majority will be new high-end or eco-tourism lodges whose developers pass strict Ugandan government guidelines overseen by conservation specialists.

Among those expected to attend are senior figures from the Hilton Group, the chief executive of African eco-tourism firm Elewana, and directors of Wilderness Group from Botswana and Great Plains from South Africa.

“The key words are responsible, and sustainable,” Mr Asiimwe said. Businesses offering the maximum immediate financial return without long-term strategies to safeguard environments and wildlife would not be considered, he said.

Other protected areas, including Kyambura Wildlife Reserve and Budongo Forest Reserve, that need infrastructure or development to realise their enormous potential will be offered as Co-Management Opportunities, where Public Private Partnerships will attract new international finance.

Many concession areas have not been available for new investors for more than 30 years.

A new Conservation Investment Delivery Unit supported by the Office of the President and housed at the Uganda Investment Authority will help interested businesses with streamlined and centralised bureaucracy to speed their applications. Financial incentives are expected to be announced at the event.

“Uganda is truly a treasure in terms of the beauty and the biodiversity of its natural wildernesses, and their potential as economic assets to benefit the country as a whole,” said Max Graham, CEO of Space for Giants.

“What’s difficult is finding the money just to protect and maintain them, let alone develop them responsibly so they can fulfil that potential.

“That’s why we commend President Museveni, and his whole Government, for taking the innovative step of inviting the private sector here to see how they can become partners in the protection of Uganda’s conservation estate, to their own profit but also the country’s and its people's.”

The Investment Forum will be held on Friday 6 October at the Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort & Spa. It is being organised in partnership with the UN Development Programme and African Wildlife Foundation. For more information visit

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