EWCO was one of our 2020 Amphibian Conservation Grant Winners. Zach interviewed Dr. James Watuwa, a wildlife veterinarian, conservationist, and founder of the Elgon Wildlife Conservation Organization in Uganda.
What specifically do you plan on using the grant money for?
We plan on using this grant money to facilitate an amphibian conservation talk / presentation in collaboration with Makerere University and consequently develop amphibian conservation education information and communication packages for the students. This will be articulated around a student poster contest to be organized and prizes to be awarded, leading the students to become more interested in amphibian conservation issues.
Uganda as a country is rich in biodiversity composed of flora and fauna but very little awareness of the need to conserve amphibians among its citizens. Raising public awareness of this group of animals is low and public awareness, education and communication might reasonably be expected to inspire and empower people to protect amphibians from extinction and also improve the impact of conservation efforts, an approach this project will use.
What does winning this grant allow you to do that you might not have otherwise?
Elgon Wildlife Conservation Organization recognizes the importance of conservation education and communication as an integral part of conservation outreach, with the ultimate aim of changing attitudes to conservation, resulting in pro-conservation behaviour. Winning this grant will enable us to produce relevant information, communication and Education print materials to enable us effectively deliver our conservation education and outreach program in schools.
We will engage young people (university students) to facilitate their personal, social and educational development and encourage them to become an active member of our awareness activities, a vital part of our work. We believe that educating and communicating to the future generation at a young age to appreciate and conserve wild species will increase the effectiveness of our programme
Amphibians are the most threatened vertebrate taxon on Earth, dealing with massive population declines due to habitat loss, introduced species, and emerging infectious diseases. Unfortunately, studies show that the global distribution of threats to amphibians strongly overlap with regions of highest amphibian diversity. Compared with most mammals, amphibians are small, cryptic with little economic value, often held in low esteem by the general public. They pose significant challenges as candidate flagship species, even though the Global Amphibian Assessment – and the initiatives emerging from it has firmly placed amphibians high on the conservation agenda
When do you expect to see results from this? What are you hoping they look like?
We hope to see results by December 2020 and this will include information, communication and Education print material highlighting detailed information on the role of amphibians in ecosystems need for amphibian conservation, and different amphibian species in Uganda and threats.
How will this impact amphibian conservation specific to this instance?
Elgon Wildlife Conservation Organization recognizes the importance of public education and communication as an integral part of conservation outreach, with the ultimate aim of changing attitudes to conservation, resulting in pro-conservation behaviour. The fundamental aim of our conservation communication and education efforts is that pro-conservation behaviour will be adopted within those communities currently exploiting natural resources. Our aim is to bring about positive change in the form of a reduction of resource extraction to sustainable levels and the elimination of illegal activities such as logging. We will work with communities to undertain their livelihood needs and work to develop sustainable alternatives. We will engage young people in this survey to facilitate their personal, social and educational development and encourage them to become active members of our awareness activities, a vital part of our work. We believe that developing education and communication initiatives for the future generation at a young age will increase the effectiveness of our amphibian conservation program by encouraging the appreciation of conserving wild species and habitats. All educational activities will be guided by appropriate safe-guarding measures.
What are the larger implications of your work?
Amphibians are the most threatened vertebrate taxon on Earth, dealing with massive population declines due to habitat loss, introduced species, and emerging infectious diseases. Unfortunately, studies show that the global distribution of threats to amphibians strongly overlap with regions of highest amphibian diversity. Compared with most mammals, amphibians are small, cryptic with often held in low esteem by the general public. They pose significant challenges as candidate flagship species, even though the Global Amphibian Assessment – and the initiatives emerging from it has firmly placed amphibians high on the conservation agenda
For example Leptopelis karissimbensis frog in the family Arthroleptidae is a Vulnerable due to its extent of occurrence of 16,667km2(IUCN) but the most vulnerable species locally in Uganda . it occurs in fewer than five threat-defined locations, and there is ongoing decline in the quality and extent of its habitat. This project aims to promote frog conservation using Leptopelis karissimbensis as a flagship species to develop workable conservation strategies for other frog species in Uganda.It should be noted that other amphibian species in this region are listed as Least Concern (30+ species, IUCN Red List), but up-to-date surveys are required to confirm current status
Education is one of the most important tools in the long-term conservation of amphibians and reptiles in Uganda where most species are facing extinction at a faster rate and globally.
We will engage young people to facilitate their personal, social and educational development and encourage them to become an active member of our awareness activities, a vital part of our work. We believe that educating the future generation at a young age to appreciate and conserve wild species will increase the effectiveness of our programme
The central message we disseminate is that people need to protect their environment to ensure that successive generations have a chance for a good future, with the same ecosystem services they rely on.
We encourage people of every age within and outside their community to work collectively by addressing their common interests. Our long-term aim is to balance the inevitable conflict between short-term needs of local people and long-term benefits that conservation programmes can generate. If local people and the government recognise that preserving the environment provides socio-economic benefits, rainforests will survive as functional ecosystems, and the future of their amphibian inhabitants will be secured
Encouraging children who live near the amphibian habitats to love the environment can change their nations’ conservation efforts, creating the forest-friendly farmers, conservationists, artists and eco-tour operators of tomorrow.
All awareness-raising efforts will be guided by a strategic plan to ensure interventions are targeted and generate genuine links to conservation on the ground.
What message or information would you like to share with the reptile and amphibian pet community?
Balancing the inevitable conflict between short-term needs of local people living next to amphibian habitats and long-term benefits that conservation programmes can generate is critical to amphibian conservation. Raising public awareness of amphibians globally is low and public education and communication might reasonably be expected to inspire and empower people to protect amphibians from extinction and also improve the impact of conservation efforts, an approach this project will use. It is no doubt that such efforts require continued support from the reptile and amphibian pet community.
How would someone make a donation to your organization?
Where could someone learn more about your project?
Anything else you feel we should know or discuss?
(EWCO) is also Uganda’s first nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to amphibian conservation. EWCO protects conservation of endangered amphibians through research, conservation education, habitat restoration, advocacy and community engagement, including provision of alternative livelihoods to reduce pressure on habitat resource use.
Our project combines basic research, awareness raising, citizen science, and conservation activities. We propose a broad investigation that allows updating conservation and amphibian disease status.
We aim to expand scientific knowledge on the ecology of the least concern and endangered amphibian species: create a baseline of home ranges, population densities, habitat characterization and habitat use patterns. We are intending to build a platform for amphibian citizen science project for the first time in Uganda.
Through our citizen science for amphibian conservation program , EWCO volunteers can contribute to protected and conserved areas data and information management (updating, use and contribution to databases)through Our Herp mapper project https://www.elgonwildlifeconservation.org/ewco-herpmapper-uganda/ which uses on online platform through a phone application to gather data on amphibians and reptiles .HerpMapper Uganda is a citizen science project of Elgon Wildlife Conservation Organization designed to gather and share information about amphibian and reptile observations across Uganda.
EWCO is using HerpMapper to create records of herp observations(Frogs, Toads, Snakes, Lizards, Tortoise)and keeps them all in one place by submitting observations or images in turn, data is made available to HerpMapper Partners /groups who use recorded observations for raising conservation awareness, research, conservation, and preservation purposes.
Our observations are making valuable contributions on the behalf of amphibians and reptiles. The goal of HerpMapper Uganda is use technology to Map amphibian and reptile distributions through time in Uganda Task is to Collect amphibian and reptile observations submitted through photos taken from anywhere in Uganda and global
EWCO recently developed our first strategic plan to guide us over the next five years. This proposal to the Save Our Species program is one component among the many included in our strategic plan. Its no doubt EWCO greatly requires the contribution of volunteers to achieve our goals, objectives, and mission.
With the current lockdown and restrictions on international travel , we are currently in need of on line volunteers to help with web based work , document development , Grant writing and fundraising among other roles
It is currently not clear how conservation will fare in the aftermath of the pandemic. Noise, air, and water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and the many other adverse human impacts on wild nature will rebound, but funding and other support for conservation will have to compete with a wide range of new priorities for financial resources which are likely to be reduced overall, at least in the near future. Like other Conservation NGOs, Elgon Wildlife Conservation Organization is also struggling to raise funding from private sources. Ultimately, conservation depends on boots on the ground and, if funding is limited, it is these activities that will need to be prioritized.
Furtherstill the pandemic crisis has negatively impacted people in communities we work with whose livelihoods depend on conservation and ecotourism, especially local people who live near and inside protected areas? It’s a critical moment and as such we need moral and financial support to continue undertaking our work and it is no doubt the reptile and amphibian pet community is just perfect platform .
EWCO is also working in collaboration with Amphibian Ark and Amphibian Survival Alliance and The Amphibian Foundation to establish the first ex-situ breeding program for amphibians in Uganda, Conduct a national Conservation Needs Assessment for Uganda and consequently develope the first Amphibian Conservation Action for Uganda
My motivation to advocating for amphibian conservation stems from my work as a wildlife veterinarian in Uganda for the past four years until in 2018 when I started a Non-Governmental Organization, the Elgon Wildlife Conservation Organization, that works to promote the conservation of threatened species, with emphasis on community participation to learn about local reptiles and amphibians through direct experiences and engagement in long-term ecological studies and conservation actions, helping to grow knowledge, skills and commitment towards science and the environment. In an effort to gain relevant skills in amphibian conservation, I subsequently applied for and was awarded a Future Leaders of Amphibian Conservation award and consequently a scholarship to attend the Amphibian Conservation Research Symposium, to attend ACRS 2020 at the 9th World Congress of Herpetology in Dunedin, New Zealand. I also applied for the Elgon Wildlife Conservation Organization to become a partner of the Amphibian Survival Alliance, aiming to gain information, support, mentorship and opportunities for collaboration from across this growing, international partnership of organisations engaged in amphibian conservation.
The greater East African region does not yet have enough amphibian researchers to contribute to conservation science and action devoted to the survival of amphibians. It is my future aspiration to continue as a hands-on amphibian conservationist for as long as practical, advancing amphibian conservation in Uganda.
In Uganda amphibian conservation efforts have been basic and to date Elgon Wildlife Conservation Organization is Uganda’s first organization dedicated exclusively to amphibian conservation. EWCO works to promote conservation of endangered amphibians through research, citizen science, conservation education, Captive breeding, habitat restoration, advocacy and community engagement.
EWCO would like to seek for a partnership with your organization so as to collaboratively contribute to amphibian conservation and also seek your advice in developing aquariums for captive amphibian breeding, producing food for amphibians among other areas.
We would also like to leverage on your networks so as to be able to reach a great audience and attract the funding ad support for our work.