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Closer look: Culture, Values and Conservation, Uganda

Written by: Mark Infield
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In 1983 the Ugandan Government declared Lake Mburo National Park. Protecting the many species of plains game, including Uganda’s last impalas, and the rich mosaic of wooded hills, grassy valleys lakes and wetlands they roamed was important. Unfortunately, following the norms of the time, Bahima pastoralists and their unique long-horned cattle were evicted. Breaking the centuries’ old connection to the land turned the Bahima against the park and set in train a conflict that lasted for decades.

The value of the World Heritage Site Rwenzori Mountains National Park is undisputed. Established in 1991 to conserve a stunning landscape of towering snow-covered peaks, high moorlands and forests of great biological richness, planners failed to recognise that local Bakonzo and Baamba people would be excluded from their sacred sites. The forests and moorlands, the very peaks themselves which are the homes of their gods, became sources of conflict rather than agents to bind people to the conservation of the land.

Since 2005 Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s Culture, Values and Conservation project has worked to undo the damage and build local interest and support for these two national parks. The project works with communities and park managers to integrate local values into the meanings and day-to-day management of the parks.

In the Rwenzori Mountains National Park, the project has helped the people gain access to their sacred sites. These communities now feel connected to conservation efforts because their interests and values are recognized and respected.

Communities have mobilized to help protect the Park’s chimpanzees. The Bakonzo’s Bathangyi clan believe chimps are kinspersons and deserve respect. The project is helping the Bathangyi clan take responsibility for protecting the chimps by promoting the cultural values that link the Bakonzo to the chimps.

‘Beautiful cows’ connect the Bahima to the land. Each hill and valley has a name that links the Bahima and their cows to historical or mythical events and to the ancestors who gave them the cows and taught them to love them.

Owning and breeding beautiful long-horned cows defines Bahima identity. Without them the Bahima lose their identity and the landscape is robbed of meaning. The expulsion of the cows from the Park did just that, since when the Bahima have struggled against park managers to return cows and therefore meaning to the land.

The project is helping Park managers to see the land through the eyes of the pastoralists, to recognise the legitimacy of their interest, and see that Bahima values and their beautiful cows can help conserve the Park.

Written by
Mark Infield

After graduating with a degree in zoology in 1980, Mark took off for Kenya, thus beginning a 30 year career in conservation. Mark has worked for NGOs, governments, universities and private companies to develop his interest in the connections between protected areas and the communities who effect or are effected by them. Picking up an MSc and a PhD along the way, he's worked to promote innovations in the way conservation managers interact with local communities. In 2002, following ten years as advisor to the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Mark joined FFI’s Asia-Pacific programme, returning to the UK in 2011 to design and develop the Cultural Values & Conservation Programme, a further extension of his ongoing commitment to improving conservation delivery through meaningful engagement with communities and their values.

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‘Beautiful cows’ connect the Bahima to the land. Each hill and valley has a name that links the Bahima and their cows to historical or mythical events and to the ancestors who gave them the cows and taught them to love them.

Mark Infield

Director, Cultural Values Programme

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