Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and its partners has announced 45 sites identified to meet Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) status, global priority areas for conservation of biodiversity in Uganda. This is the first time that there has been a national assessment of KBAs across several taxa by a country in the world.

“The KBA global criteria were applied to mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and plant species to assess the KBAs, and an additional suite of nationally important sites were also identified” said Dr. Simon T. Nampindo, the Country Director of Wildlife Conservation Society, Uganda Program. “It is likely that more KBAs will be identified with time as more taxa are assessed, and new species are discovered.”

The planning process specifically describes identification of sites that Uganda is responsible for as part of the global community as well as sites of national importance; most conservation planning processes do not do this and as a result, the global importance of sites is lost and does not influence subsequent funding and management decisions. “Uganda needs to know which sites they are responsible for as part of the global community, and the sites that are important to maintain all of their species under the Convention on Biological Diversity,” said Andrew Plumptre, the lead author of the paper.  “Assessing KBAs as part of the process highlights which sites are globally important within a national planning process.”

The paper describes an approach that incorporates the assessment of globally and nationally important sites for conservation, unlike many conservation planning processes that focus on a part of a country (hotspot) that is important nationally. The Global Standard was applied to identify globally important sites across 5 taxa. The conservation planning tool Marxan was used to identify irreplaceable sites for the conservation of globally and nationally threatened species and habitats in Uganda.

Priority sites for conservation financing (i.e. 11 forest reserves and 6 unprotected sites) and irreplaceable sites both outside and inside protected areas (10) that support species that did not occur elsewhere in the country were also identified. In summary, the KBA sites now include 23 Important Bird Areas (IBA) that qualified under the Global Standard for KBAs published by IUCN in 2016, as well as nine freshwater sites and 13 newly identified KBAs.  

Over the last decade, several sites have been heavily degraded and invaded by people due to the rapidly expanding human population, demand for agricultural land, mining and infrastructural development that are creating massive pressures on the remaining natural habitats, including protected areas in Uganda.

To prevent further degradation and invasion of these key sites, conservation actions will have to be adaptive and large-scale project developers have to adopt the mitigation hierarchy to avoid adversely impacting high biodiversity conservation sites, particularly KBAs and irreplaceable sites and if such projects must proceed in ecological sensitive sites, they have to offset impacts. KBAs are currently recognized as likely ‘critical habitat’ by banks that lend to companies and as such set the application of the mitigation hierarchy as a borrowing prerequisite. Underfunded and unprotected KBA sites were recommended in the paper as prime targets for offset sites. “The government of Uganda should commit itself to institutionalize KBAs since they are already indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals and CBD Aichi targets, and will likely become more important after 2020 planning for the CBD,” Simon added.

The analysis was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and with additional financial support from Tullow Oil who funded the National Red List Assessment for Uganda. Eli Greenbaum (University of Texas at El Paso) and Julian Kerbis Peterhans (Chicago Field Museum) provided location data for some species and helped pull together species distribution data for reptiles/amphibians and small mammals, respectively.

For more information, please contact Dr. Simon Nampindo on +256772 226 003 or visit: www.keybiodiversityareas.org a complete list of identified KBAs.

 WCS Uganda Program was founded in 1957 and has since then been supporting conservation projects across three landscapes namely: Murchision-Semliki, Greater Virunga and Kidepo. WCS envisions a world where wildlife thrives in healthy lands and seas, valued by societies that embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth and WCS's goal is to conserve the world's largest wild places in 16 priority regions, home to more than 50% of the world's biodiversity as it ensures a positive impact on millions of people globally. For more information, visit: www.wcsuganda.org