The Independent (Uganda)
February 25, 2019
KAMPALA, UGANDA: Elephants are one of the most iconic and popular animals
that attract visitors by their thousands to Queen Elizabeth National Park
in western Uganda. Even the locals of Kafuru, a small village near the
eastern fringes of the park know this.
MacLean Nagasha, a 17-year old student of Bakyenga S.S in Rubirizi, for
example, says elephants are important because the government earns foreign
exchange from the tourists. For her community, she says, the park provides
firewood, thatching grass and timber.
But for other residents, like David Kwatampora, elephants represent
anguish, pain and sorrow.
Sixty-year-old Kwatampora has been living here since 1972 and has witnessed
the conflict between elephants and people almost daily. Just like hundreds
of others in this village perched on the western side of the Kyambura Gorge
in Kirugu sub-county, Rubirizi District, he is a peasant farmer.
He, like almost everybody here, depends on their small plots of arable land
that are only separated from the park’s boundaries by a narrow dirt road.
They grow cotton, maize, cassava and tomato.
Looking at the plants in full bloom, a first time visitor would think
Kwatampora and his folk will in a few months harvest food and spare some to
sell and earn millions of shillings. But that view vanishes when the
villagers start telling mournful tales of their routine confrontation with
their dangerous wild neighbours.
?The animals attack us every day,? says Jacob Baabo.
?We try to grow our crops in order to survive but all our labour goes to
waste almost all the time,? says Moses Koyekyenga, 42, ?We sometimes go
without food and we have been reduced to labourers in neighbouring villages
in order to find food for our families.?
Medias Kamarembo, a dimunitive but vocal woman who says she grows mainly
cotton says she and her colleagues are failing to educate their children
because of the non-stop elephant and buffalo raids on their crops.
Along the road between the park and the fields of crop are grass thatched
huts where, we are told, villagers stay overnight as they keep watch over
It is said that in just one night of ?crop raiding,? elephants can destroy
whole gardens, leaving the subsistence farmers desperate for food and
money. So those who cannot endure the cold nights, battle the beasts in the
morning and throughout the day.
?We need urgent help to ward off the elephants,? says Kamarembo.
Fortunately, it appears, help has finally arrived. The Uganda Wildlife
Authority (UWA) is constructing an electric fence between Kafuru village
and the park.
A gang of workers has, since October last year, been working on the fence.
All grass and shrubbery has been cleared from a strip along the length of
the dirt road that looks about 5 metres wide and stretches as far as the
eye can see. Along it, an unending line of holes have been dug and round
posts, each 3ft high, have been fixed and three lines of 2.55mm high
tensile wires strung across the posts.
It is difficult to believe that this short and weak-looking fence can stop
a buffalo, let alone an elephant which is big and powerful. The fence is
about as tall as the waist of a tall person, yet an elephant can be three
times taller. But Ibrahim Njenga, a Kenyan fence technician who is
overseeing the work and has fixed the fences in Botswana, Gabon, and Kenya,
says it works.
He says fences are only needed in short stretches where human-elephant
conflict is worst.
“Our research shows that building electrified fences is the most effective
way to succeed. We have worked out that a short-post fence with long
electrified outriggers works best,” Njenga says, “We have already tried it
in many places and it has worked very effectively.”
Njenga has done this kind of work for the last eight years and his gang of
10 workers is made of up of Ugandans with the majority coming from the
Kyambura area. Njenga’s understudy, Modest Enzama, is attached to UWA and
works directly with the fence builders.
Njenga explains that the fence?s effectiveness in blocking elephants is
built around “outriggers” wires that slant from the vertical posts at an
angle of 45 degrees towards the direction the animal will approach from the
national park side.
He says when the system is switched on, electricity pulses of up to 9000
volts drawn from solar-powered energizers feed into the wires. Then, when
the wires touch an elephant on the soft flesh of its chest or its trunk,
the animal is shocked and forced to turn away before it can reach the posts
to destroy the fence and run into the fields.
The fence voltage is high, but the current is low meaning that it cannot
electrocute a person to death. Anyone who touches it will receive a strong
shock but not one that will kill them.