Daily Monitor (Uganda)
Mary, the friendly elephant who often visits Katunguru and Kasenyi trading centres inside Queen Elizabeth National Park. Photo by Felix Basiime.
By ENID NINSIIMA & FELIX BASIIME
Last week, two people were injured by stray bullets as security and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) wardens pursued a stray elephant from residents’ gardens in Rukooki, Kasese District.
The injured included Uchamgiu Ahamad Khatib, 86, a resident of Kisangazi ward in Nyamwamba division in Kasese Municipality and Musoki Primuzim, 10, a pupil at Margherita Demonstration Primary School.
The elephant strayed from the nearby Queen Elizabeth National Park into the cotton and maize gardens of residents of Kihara village, Kihara ward, Kasese Municipality last month.
Due to fear, the residents have since failed to harvest their crop despite being ready for harvest as maize stems are tall enough to obscure the wild animal.
Efforts by UWA officials to push the wild animal back to the park have yielded nothing despite the shootings.
However, the situation in Kasese spells a wider human wildlife conflict that has been growing in the areas surrounding the second biggest national park in Uganda.
The park borders Kasese, Rubirizi, Kanungu, Ibanda, Mitooma, Rukungiri and Kamwenge districts.
Local governments currently share 20 per cent of the revenue from gate collections by UWA every year, and the measures to curb animals from crossing into peoples gardens have not stopped the conflict from growing.
In July 2016, Kasese received in excess of Shs362m, Rubirizi Shs155m, Kamwenge Shs128m, Rukungiri Shs90m, Mitooma Shs89m, Kanungu Shs81m and lastly Ibanda Shs21m. Kasese District got the biggest share of the funds since it covers the biggest part of the park.
Close to Shs4b has been paid out by UWA to districts since 2003 as 20 per cent revenue sharing to help them solve the human-wildlife problems which have persisted.
Claims of loss
Despite this, wild animals especially elephants have continued to stray into people’s gardens and also attack, kill and injure the people.
In 2011, a group of 460 farmers in Kasese District unsuccessfully sought Shs1.5b compensation from UWA following claims that animals from Queen Elizabeth National Park destroyed their crops and property.
The farmers under their umbrella organisation, Ikongo Farmers Marketing and Processing Cooperative Society unsuccessfully sued UWA in High Court in Kampala accusing UWA of negligence, alleging that the animals, including elephants, escaped from the park which is about five miles away from their gardens and destroyed their crops.
The crops allegedly destroyed were soya beans, groundnuts, maize, mangoes, pineapples, bananas, and cotton.
The aggrieved farmers sought general damages, claiming that UWA breached its statutory duty by failing to construct an enclosure to limit the animals’ movement from the gazetted park.
The group further contended that as a result of the destruction, they suffered profit losses and defaulted on their loan obligations as their financial needs including loan repayment were dependent on the sale of the destroyed produce.
Similar stories cut across many areas surrounding the park as communities complain but in vain.
They allege that UWA in turn accused them of encroaching on the park, which attracts animals into their homes and that they are interfering with the park ecosystems and disturbing wild animals which are at peace in their natural habitats.
In the recent case, Kezia Kabugho, one of the farmers whose garden was invaded last week by a stray elephant said that they have abandoned their gardens for fear of their lives. “We have lost our crops to the elephant that has stayed here since the month (November) begun. We fear to come to the gardens since the elephant is dangerous and can harm or kill us,” Kabugho said.
Morris Mumbere, a cotton farmer in the affected village expressed his disappointment with UWA management for their failure to control stray animals which he said had become a major problem to promotion of agriculture.
“We have lost our crops to wild animals for a long time but nothing has been done. We want the president to solve the problem or else we devise other means,” Mumbere said. “We have been talking about the issues of wild animals invading people’s gardens for about 10-15 years now, but nothing has been done to address the problem,” he added.
The people of Rubirizi District on the eastern part of the Queen Elizabeth National Park have for long asked government to erect an electric fence around the park, something which is next to impossible based on international regulations on conservation and protection of natural resources, of which Uganda is a signatory.
The farmers in the districts around the park have asked government to review the UWA policy on wild animals which prohibits people from killing the animals that invade their gardens and also review the issue of compensation for the loss.
According to UWA, the law does not indicate any requirement for compensation for losses incurred but urges cooperation between the parties to curb the animal invasion of the gardens.
Need for cooperation
However, the Kasese Resident District Commissioner, James Mwesigye reasons that there is need for co-existence of people and wildlife.
Worldwide, there is growing conflict between man and wild animals. It is not a local phenomenon; but an issue that spans a diverse array of geographic and human demographic contexts.
Although humans and wildlife have co-existed for a long time, the frequency of conflicts have increased in recent decades as a result of increased human activities in wildlife reserves and forests.
According to the World Conservation Union (World Park Congress 2003), conflict occurs when wildlife’s requirements overlap with those of human populations, creating costs to residents and wild animals.
If man destroys or disturbs animals’ habitat, it is quite obvious that there will be struggle for the survival on the part of the animals.
The destruction of their habitat due to human activities compels wild animals to enter human settlements in search of food and water, leading to conflict. In the case of Uganda, many communities have settled in parts of national parks. For example, Muhokya and Katunguru trading centres and Katwe-Kabatooro town council have been established inside Queen Elizabeth National park.
There are also groups of people who have been increasingly settling on the periphery of the park, at Kyambura and in Kasese town.