Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at Zoohackathon 2021 Uganda

U.S. Embassy Kampala | November 14, 2021, 2021

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at Zoohackathon 2021 Uganda (as prepared for delivery at Uganda Wildlife Conservation EducationCentre, Entebbe, Uganda) 

Good afternoon, everyone! It’s a pleasure to be here with you at the close of the third annual Zoohackathon competition here in Uganda.  Let’s start by offering a sincere thank you to our host UWEC [Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre], and the staff here who have worked so incredibly hard to make this a successful weekend.  

I’d also like to thank our sponsors, Raxio, Samasource, Simplifi Networks, CitiBank, and Marsh Insurance, who have donated their time and resources to making this event so successful and for their commitment to corporate social responsibility initiatives in Uganda.  They are an excellent example of the positive role U.S. companies play in Uganda to foster innovation.  

Finally, thank you to the Zoohackathon mentors and Bootcamp facilitators who shared their expertise and insight with you all, and the judges who thoughtfully considered each of your solutions.  

Most of all, I want to thank each of you, our competitors, for being here today to meet the challenge of combatting wildlife trafficking.  Aside from decimating populations of incredible species like elephants, lions, and pangolins, all of which have been poached in Uganda in the year that I’ve been here, wildlife trafficking has significant consequences for our environment and day-to-day lives.  It contributes to a decrease in biodiversity, impacts local communities by fueling human wildlife conflict, and can drive the spread of zoonotic diseases.  By your participation in Zoohackathon, you’ve demonstrated that you believe in a future where we have put an end to wildlife trafficking both here in Uganda and worldwide.  

Perhaps over this weekend you’ve come to understand that this future cannot be achieved alone.  It’s one that requires teamwork, one that requires partnership, not only within communities, or across the technology and conservation sectors, but across international borders.  You’ve demonstrated that not only are you committed to developing your own skills toward building this future, but that you’re willing to invest your time and energy into collaborating with others in service to a cause bigger than yourself or your team.    

That’s why I’m proud to be here today reaffirming that the United States is committed to collaborating with the Ugandan people to combat wildlife trafficking, to mitigate conflict between humans and wildlife, to preserve this country’s amazing biodiversity, and to support the development and application of innovative solutions to global challenges like wildlife trafficking and climate change, especially through using technology.  

In Queen Elizabeth National Park, which I just visited earlier this month, we’ve funded through USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] the rollout of SMART-connect ranger patrol software and training that helps the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) build capacity to respond to wildlife crime.  We’ve also supported a program that trains local residents to provide information to UWA intelligence units, and supplies UWA authorities with technology that aids in evidence collection.  

Recently, the Uganda Wildlife Authority has adopted the use of the Earth Ranger software, which helps managers of protected areas obtain information and make operational decisions for wildlife conservation in Murchison Falls National Park.  On Earth Day in April, I had a chance to visit Murchison Falls and see this software in action and how it facilitated real-time tracking and communication between the rangers and the command center staff.  I was also pleased to see a number of women working in the center and I am so glad to see women represented here too!    

As COVID-19 has so recently shown us, preventing the spread of novel zoonotic viruses is a challenge linked to wildlife trafficking that urgently requires innovative and thoughtful solutions; a challenge many of you tackled this weekend.  That’s why I’m proud to have commissioned a U.S.-funded Bio Safety Level 2 Laboratory in Queen Elizabeth National Park last week.  This lab will enhance Uganda Wildlife Authority’s detection and surveillance abilities, which means better and earlier detection of and faster responses to disease outbreaks in Uganda, including zoonotic diseases.  

These are just some of the examples of how the United States is partnering with Uganda to build a future where the elimination of wildlife trafficking can ensure that species endangerment, zoonotic disease transmission, and human wildlife conflict are no longer a threat to local populations or the global community.  

The success of these partnerships needs you — your enthusiasm, your commitment, and your expertise.  We look to you to continue coding the applications that raise awareness about critical wildlife issues or track disease outbreaks.  We look to you to lead the local and regional initiatives that reduce human wildlife conflict.  We look to you to be leaders in bringing innovative solutions to the challenges facing Ugandan communities.  And we know you will not disappoint!  Thank you.