How Art Is Saving Animal Lives in Uganda

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Art comes to life in Uganda as a way to circumvent death. Conservation biologist Tutilo Mudumba, several colleagues and staffers with the Uganda Wildlife Authority have a focused mission — recovering snares and shaping them into intricate sculptures of African wildlife.

The inspirational art business is booming. Launched in 2015, “Snares to Wares” now employs 620 local artisans, who typically sell more than 800 sculptures a month, mainly to U.S. customers.

Mudumba is co-director and co-founder of the nonprofit. He works with co-founder Robert Montgomery, a wildlife ecologist at Michigan State University, which supports and funds the initiative.

“It’s about alternative food sources but also empowering [locals],” said Mudumba, a National Geographic Explorer.

Mudumba’s interest in wildlife was spawned after he left his home village in rural Uganda to attend school in the capital of Kampal. He joined a wildlife club at the school, giving him the opportunity to visit several national parks and meet conservationists. Those interactions led to him focusing on conservation as a career path.

The idea for the project originated nearly a decade ago when Mudumba was part of a research team that identified wire traps as the main culprit behind a 40 percent decline in the park’s lions between 2002 and 2009.

Mudumba spent the next few years studying methods of identifying and removing snares in the park, but became increasingly frustrated. “We kept doing it, and the snares didn’t end,” he said.

While working toward his doctorate at Michigan State University in 2015, Mudumba connected with Montgomery. They then created Snares to Wares as a way to “serve the cause of the fire.”

Snares to Wares collects the traps from the park about every two weeks, working in conjunction with the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The traps are sorted by material and then given to the artisans. They’ve been working remotely in small groups since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.

Some of the artwork can be seen in the group’s Facebook page (SnarestoWares/photos)