Our Friend of the Month for February is Dr Akankwasah Barirega, who is head of Uganda’s Department of Wildlife Conservation and the EPI’s National Focal Point in that country.
Was it always your dream to work in wildlife conservation?
Yes it was my childhood dream. I was inspired by being born next to the great Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, home to about half of the world's remaining mountain gorillas, as well as elephants and other species.
You have a doctorate - what did you study and how much has it helped you in your career?
I studied the commercialisation of wild plants to improve livelihoods of communities. Communities are the 'true' stewards of wildlife. They will always use natural resources for survival, even if they have to do so unsustainably. Supporting sustainable community livelihoods therefore guarantees conservation.
We read a lot in Ugandan newspapers about conflict between humans and elephants. Do you feel this problem is getting worse, and what can we do about it?
Human-elephant conflict is getting out of hand, due to the recovery of elephant populations coupled with high human population growth. We need to manage human population growth, create elephant movement corridors and support improved farming on limited land acreage. We must also find alternative livelihoods that optimise land use, and build effective conservation friendly elephant barriers like beehive fencing. And we must build community awareness.
Of course, everyone is hoping that in 2021 it will be possible to travel again. If someone was coming to Uganda for the first time, which place would you recommend as a ’must not miss’?
Uganda, being the Pearl of Africa, has so many ecozones; tropical rain forests, great African savannahs, freshwater lakes like Lake Victoria - which is the source of the River Nile, the longest river in the world - the snow-capped legendary Ruwenzoris. The list is endless. But one thing one must never miss when you come to Uganda is tracking the Mountain Gorillas. It's a lifetime wonder!
Describe your perfect Sunday (assuming no Covid restrictions of course!)
My perfect Sunday starts with early morning jogging, watching the news and self-help reading. The remaining part is family fun time.