The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has registered a breakthrough in the investigation and arrest of poachers suspected to have killed 2 chimpanzees in Bugoma Forest and Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve with the arrest of the suspected ring leader Yafesi Baguma, aged 36 years.
Yafesi Baguma is a known notorious poacher who has been at large following the arrest of his colleagues last month. He has been on the wanted list of criminals suspected to be part of the 5 people that killed 2 chimpanzees in September 2021.
This follows the gruesome discovery of 2 chimpanzees that were discovered by a patrol team from the Association for the Conservation of Bugoma Forest (ACBF) on September 27, 2021, while assessing the degradation caused by loggers.
The operation mounted to find Baguma on January 10, 2022, that ended with his successful arrest, followed an intelligence tip off and a combined operation by UWA rangers and Uganda police. Baguma was found in Kakindo village in the Kakumiro district, 104 km away from the Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve where he had fled 4 months ago after killing the 2 chimpanzees. Baguma had abandoned his home in Nyaigugu village, Kimbugu parish, Kabwoya subcounty, Kikuube district. On September 27, 2021, Baguma and 3 others – Nabasa Isiah, 27 years; Tumuhairwa John, 22 years; and Baseka Eric, 25 years – are suspected to have killed the 2 chimpanzees. The 3 are on remand in connection with the same case.
According to a statement issued by the UWA Communications Manager, Bashir Hangi, dated January 10, 2022, “Baguma is currently being transported to Kampala Central Station from where he will be arraigned before the Utilities, Standards and Wildlife Court and charged with illegal killing of protected species. UWA will continue to look for the remaining suspect so that all the 5 are brought before the law to answer the charges.” The Wildlife Act of 2019 provides for a life sentence or a fine of 20 billion Uganda shillings for crimes against killing endangered species.
The 41,144-square-hectare Bugoma Forest has been the subject of controversy since Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom leased 5,779 hectares of the forest to Hoima Sugar Limited for sugar cane growing in August 2016.
Environmentalists have taken on legal battles with Bunyoro Kingdom and the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) for hastily issuing an Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) certificate to Hoima Sugar without due process including a public hearing purporting COVID-19 restrictions.
Relentless pressure from advocacy groups has culminated in Justice Musa Ssekaana, Head of the High Court Civil Division in Kampala, recusing himself on December 8, 2021, from hearing for the most recent case filed by Resource Agent Africa (RRA), The Uganda Environment Shield, and Uganda Law Society against Hoima Sugar, NEMA, and others in the right to clean energy and a healthy environment suit.
This prompted applause from activists that convened a press conference demanding the restoration of the degraded forest. These included Climate Action Network Uganda (CANU), Association for The Conservation of Bugoma Forest (ACBF), Africa Institute for Energy and Governance (AFIEGO), National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), Water and Environment Media Network (WEMNET), Jane Goodall Institute, Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO), Tree Talk Plus, Association of Scouts of Uganda, Inter-Generational Agenda On Climate Change (IGACC), and Climate Desk Buganda Kingdom. Climate Change activist, Vanesa Nakate, fresh from the COP 26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, recently added her voice to the campaign to #saveBugomaForest.
The most recent debacle followed the uprooting of marked stones in December that had been erected following the joint boundary reopening exercise after controversial Commissioner for Lands and Surveys, Wilson Ogalo, abruptly instructed surveyors on the ground to halt the exercise citing the excuse of the Christmas break until January 17, 2022.
Located in Kikube district, Bugoma Central Forest Reserve originally gazetted in 1932, is home to 23 species of mammals; 225 species of birds including hornbills, turacos, Nahan’s francolin, and the green breasted pitta; 570 chimpanzees; the endemic Uganda mangabey (lophocebus ugandae), red tailed baboons, vervet monkeys, blue duikers, bush pigs, elephants, side striped jackals, and golden cats. The forest also houses important artifacts of heritage importance to the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom in Kyangwali sub-county, Kikuube district, which were returned to the kingdom following the Traditional Rulers (Restitution of Assets and Properties) Act of 1993.
Bugoma Forest Lodge is the only accommodation bordering the forest that offers breaks between Kibale Forest and Murchison Falls National Park.