Michigan State students, Ugandans collaborate for wildlife

Students at Michigan State University are training to be the next leaders in wildlife conservation while helping people in Uganda develop novel solutions to conservation problems.

The students are taking part in a course that involves them in a community-based conservation initiative dedicated to improving human livelihood while protecting wildlife in and around Pakwach, a village near Murchison Falls National Park.

Students in the class hope to address wildlife poaching by empowering local artisans to repurpose poachers’ wire snares into sculptures of the wildlife that may otherwise fall victim to them.

“In this course we have taught students how to unpack global problems,” said assistant professor Robert Montgomery, who co-directs the Snares to Wares Initiative with PhD candidate Tutilo Mudumba.

Uganda’s largest national park, Murchison Falls possesses abundant wildlife and monumental landscapes, but it is blighted by rampant wire snaring, a method of subsistence poaching that uses material from discarded vehicle tires. The tires are burned to harvest the wire within, which is shaped into snares that are responsible for the deaths and maiming of lions, giraffes, elephants and other charismatic species of the park.

Ugandan artisans craft the wire from poachers’ snares into wildlife sculptures. ©Michigan State University

After noticing the degree of poaching there, Mudumba and Montgomery created this Initiative with the goals of advancing conservation efforts, improving the livelihood of local communities and developing opportunities for conservation education. The initiative seeks to steer young people away from poaching by training them as artisans who use snares removed from the park to create wire sculptures. These sculptures are then sold locally, within Murchison Falls National Park, and abroad in numerous zoos and museums across the United States and Europe.

By involving local artisans, participants hope to create opportunities that empower local communities while sustainably conserving wildlife.

“The overarching goal of the Snares to Wares Initiative is to promote diversity in wildlife conservation,” Mudumba said. “To create a sustainable program that promotes first and foremost the communities of East Africa — such as Pakwach, Uganda — is of the utmost importance.”

Mudumba and Montgomery formed a diverse team of undergraduate students to work in an interdisciplinary effort that brings together opinions and backgrounds that do not normally interact on campus at MSU.

The students create coordinated objectives and work in four teams: sustainability, content development, digital solutions and value chain. The teams intentionally place together students with different majors and backgrounds to bring a variety of perspectives and ideas.

The course includes students and professors from the college’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, College of Business, College of Arts and Letters and the School of Packaging.

“Our goal,” Montgomery said, “was simple: to ignite student passion towards a common goal of growing the Snares to Wares Initiative with positive gains for student learning, wildlife and the livelihoods of people living in communities in Uganda.”

For more information, visit the Snares to Wares Initiative.

Read The Wildlife Society’s position statement on Diversity within the Wildlife Profession.

Header Image: Local artisans pose alongside Tutilo Mudumba and Robert Montgomery in Uganda