Speke Resort Munyonyo, Kampala, Uganda | December 2, 2022
(as prepared for delivery)
I am thrilled to join you this evening on behalf of the United States Government to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the Uganda Wildlife Education Center. With a mission that has evolved over time from its wildlife sanctuary roots, the Entebbe Zoo, as most still call it, is a recognized leader in conservation education, instilling a sense of wonder about the magnificent wildlife found in this country to all visitors. Across the world, as environmental conditions continue to deteriorate due to climate change and biodiversity loss, conservation education is more critical than ever.
As everyone here knows, Uganda is endowed with incredible biodiversity and harbors some of the world’s most iconic species. I have had the great privilege to visit many of Uganda’s parks to marvel at some of the animals in their natural habitats, and unfortunately to see how they suffer because of man. I saw the traps and snares at Murchison Falls, as well as a poacher apprehended by rangers, and I will never forget the elephant, who by some miracle is still alive despite losing half of his trunk to a snare. And thanks to UWEC, I also got to interact with a variety of animals up close. This past Earth Day, I was a zookeeper for a day, where I learned even more about the animals and witnessed the dedication and unending excitement of the zookeepers. It was a particularly special experience – not just because an elephant sneezed on me – but because I was able to share it with some school children. I highlight this because conservation education encourages children to explore the environment and develop cognitive frameworks for understanding the natural world. It lays the foundation for children to develop environmentally focused skills, values, and attitudes as they grow older.
The U.S. Mission in Uganda appreciates the importance of conservation, both to safeguard the planet’s biodiversity and to generate economic development. We are proud to have supported UWEC’s development – if you look around the zoo, there are a few plaques bearing our name – and we currently continue to work in the conservation sector through UWA and our implementing partners. Our work includes:
- projects to mitigate human-wildlife conflict, which is critically important has humans encroach on animal habitats;
- supporting systems for the legal trade of wildlife projects, like the electronics CITES permitting system, which the Minister and I launched last year;
- events like Zoohackathon, hosted by UWEC, where young people use technology to address a conservation challenge;
- strengthening institutions like the Uganda Police Force, the Uganda Wildlife Authority and Uganda Revenue Authority customs officials to fight wildlife crime;
- equipping a state-of-the-art multi-million dollar laboratory at Mweya, Queen Elizabeth National Park, to detect, surveil, and report emerging and re-emerging animal diseases to limit zoonotic outbreaks.
- and by detecting, deterring, and prosecuting wildlife offenders through close collaboration with security and law enforcement agencies.
Underpinning these activities is conservation education, helping children and adults to develop a love for both science and nature that will stay with them throughout their lives. I benefited from this exposure as a child. In fact, my hometown is the site of the Omaha Zoo, one of the world’s most recognized zoos. I celebrated most of my birthdays as a kid by going to that zoo. My parents had a family membership, and my mother would load up the car with 10 kids from different backgrounds and we would enter as one family. We were quite the spectacle. As an adult, I now recognize it was an economical way to celebrate my birthday and manage a gaggle of energetic children, yet I recall the visits with fondness and even today, every visit home includes a trip to the zoo.
And my experience illustrates the value in engaging children in protecting wildlife. I have personally seen it here, too. Over the past year, the U.S. Mission in Uganda partnered with Peripheral Vision International (PVI), a U.S.-based NGO, to produce two episodes of its hit science and technology-based TV show for African youth, N*Gen, which sounds like the word “engine,” but stands for “Next Generation.” The two-part episode on human and wildlife conflict was filmed in Murchison Falls National Park, featuring children from Clarke Junior School here in Kampala and inspirational staff from UWA. It was rewarding to see the children recognize how difficult life is for both humans and animals living near each other around a large protected area like Murchison Falls. N*Gen is broadcast here in Uganda and the episodes are also on YouTube. They are informative and entertaining, and the serious, probing questions the kids asked came from them, showing a deep understanding of the importance of conservation at a very early age. I also enjoyed seeing how the kids loved making the stinky repellent to keep elephants from raiding crops!
Efforts like the N*Gen episodes and the conservation education programs here at UWEC underscore the importance of promoting conservation at a young age. These efforts also highlight the need for sustained partnerships across different sectors so that we protect wildlife and conserve our natural resources for future generations. For example, Zoohackathon would not have been possible without the private sector which provided technical advice, equipment, and prizes. And at the core, of course, is the Ugandan government, which I commend for encouraging more people to step up, speak out and take action to conserve Uganda’s wildlife. I trust these efforts will ultimately lead to millions of future tourists coming to experience the magnificence of Uganda’s biodiversity. I hope this commitment also spurs greater interest among youth, and among all Ugandans in general, in the importance of environmental conservation and the role we all play in supporting it.
I want to thank all of you here today for your commitment to conservation education in Uganda.