A crucial meeting which may determine the future of Uganda’s Kafuga Forest – originally due to take place today – has been postponed until Monday.
At 11am on Monday a petition signed by 142, 809 concerned citizens from all over the world will be presented to Hon Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, Uganda’s Minister of Water and Environment.
It is the culmination of an international #SaveKafugaForest campaign led by ITF partner Pro Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda (PROBICOU). PROBICOU Director Robert Tumwesigye will call on the Minister to halt plans for the felling of ancient rainforest – which could push the critically-endangered mountain gorilla towards extinction.
A group of more than 250 tea growers, backed by local government officials, are planning to clear fell the Kafuga Pocket Forest, a remnant of rainforest on the fringes of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park which is home to 400 of the world’s remaining 880 mountain gorillas.
PROBICOU, which works to give local people a stake in conserving and enhancing the natural environment, launched a campaign last year to save the Kafuga Forest last year. It is being supported by ITF as well as the German-based campaign group, Rainforest Rescue, which has helped co-ordinate an international online petition.
The 250-hectare Kafuga Forest, in the Kisoro District of south-west Uganda, is seen as a vital buffer zone which helps protect gorillas and other rare wildlife from the fast-expanding human population.
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Mr Tumwesigye confirmed that in a phone conversation with Prof Kamuntu the Minister he had assured him that he would listen to what he had to say.
“Bwindi is one of the jewels of Uganda and the world’s natural heritage – and if the Kafuga Forest is destroyed, the mountain gorilla and other rare wildlife will be put in jeopardy,” said Mr Tumwesigye.
“I will be appealing to the Minister to acknowledge its importance by acting to stop the forest being cut down. There are many other suitable areas where tea could be grown.”
ITF has helped PROBICOU raise 30,000 indigenous trees to restore parts of Kafuga Forest which have become degraded. But plans to plant out the trees had to be abandoned when the tea-growers’ plans were revealed last September.
ITF Chief Executive, Andy Egan, said “The Ugandan government is a signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals which include a commitment to ‘promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally’ by 2020.
“This is a great opportunity for the Minister of Environment to show the world that Uganda is taking a leading role. PROBICOU’S work with local communities to restore the Kafuga Forest and implement alternative income generating activities for local people through agroforestry is exactly the type of project that the government should be promoting country wide.
“ITF is willing to play its part by continuing our partnership with PROBICOU and supporting the development of a conservation management plan for the forest.”
A spokesman for Rainforest Rescue, Mathias Rittgerott, commented: “Gorillas are among our closest relatives. People around the world are worried this unique species will be extinct soon if we don’t protect their habitat. We want to play our part in this effort, together with local environmentalists. ”
Conservationists are warning that although the mountain gorilla population has stabilised in recent years – it is still precariously low. If the Kafuga Forest is cleared, the long-term prospects for the survival of the Bwindi gorillas and hundreds of other rare wildlife species will be put in jeopardy.
Kafuga, which was originally part of the Bwindi national park, no longer has any gorillas but still supports a wide range of plants and animals including afromontane trees, rare mammals, reptiles and birds. If it was destroyed, not only would its wildlife be wiped out but local people in one of the most economically-deprived areas of East Africa would be deprived of an important natural resource. This, in turn, would be likely to lead to a big increase in illegal incursions into the national park, degrading the gorillas’ habitat and placing them at risk from increased human contact.