Saturday April 21 2018

Human wildlife conflict: Communities demand compensation

Problem animal. A lion captured by UWA

Problem animal. A lion captured by UWA officials in Katunguru in 2012. PHOTO BY FELIX BASIIME.  

By Felix Basiime and Enid Ninsiima

Last week, the human and wildlife conflict went to another level when 11 lions were killed by poisoning at Hamukungu fishing village inside Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Hamukungu is one of the human settlements inside the park. Others include Muhokya, Kahokya, Katunguru, Kahendero, Kasenyi, Katwe-Kabatooro town council and Kikorongo. All these areas face invasions of animals as conservationists argue that it is man who has encroached on the wild animal habitats over time due to population pressures on the fixed land.
Pastoralism versus conservation
“We have lost over 20 cows and many goats to these lions in two weeks, on top of many more lost in the last two months. We have tried to report to UWA but no response,” Zeverio Bulenge, a resident says. Problem animals” as the locals prefer to call them include the lion, the elephant, the buffalo, bush pigs and crocodiles.
Bulenge also faults Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) for introducing a project of rearing lions amidst the community at the expense of their livelihood.
Mr Mwanda, the Executive Director of UWA denies that UWA rears lions within the communities only that there is a project dubbed “Carnivores project” by an investor who marked lions for easy tracking by tourists. He says when tourists come; they switch on a GPS that locates easily where the lions are.
The lions were marked with a collar around their necks that links with the GPS machine.
In 2010, more than six lions were poisoned at the same spot after pastoralists complained of invasion. In the recent case, the lions were killed few kilometres from the people’s homesteads. Patrick Beyunga, the Hamukungu local council chairperson attributes the poisoning of the lions to lack of response to complaints by pastoralists over the continued loss of domestic animals to wildlife.
“We have lost national income in the deaths of lions but UWA relationship with the community here has worsened. We know the 20 per cent revenue sharing but the situation cannot remain like this. Their response to such problems has been poor; you can see the outcome. I call for thorough investigation into the matter in order to bring culprits to book,” the area boss notes. Kiviri Byaruhanga, a local at Hamukungu believes that in the next 10 years, both lions and cows will be no more in the area if government does not make a deliberate move to save the situation.
Lions, a vulnerable species
Today, the lion occurs in fragmented populations in Sub-Saharan Africa and one in western India. It has been listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1996, as populations in African range countries declined by about 43 percent since the early 1990s.
“Government made a mistake to allow pastoralists in this sanctuary because the domestic animals compete with wild animals for pastures. We have kept domestic animals for wildlife,” Tourism minister Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu said last week at Hamukungu fishing village in Lake Katwe sub-county, Kasese District.
The poisoning of a pride of 11 climbing lions at Hamukungu fishing village was the third incident since 2007 when 13 lions were poisoned. Later in 2010, eight lions were also poisoned all in the same park.
Edward Asalu, the manager of Queen Elizabeth National Park estimates the number of lions at 42 out of 400 in the whole country.
In 2012, a friendly elephant aka Mary was killed by poisoning by the community at Katunguru trading centre as the members alleged that it used to eat food from their kitchens.
Over two decades ago, Mary was orphaned in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Rescued and tamed by park wardens at Mweya Safari Lodge, Mary’s bond with humans was so strong that even though she later returned to the wild, she regularly visited the locals near her place of abode.
Mary occasionally visited Katunguru Trading Centre and Kasenyi landing site. She was a great tourist attraction as people used to hand feed her without any harm.
Despite her friendly nature, Mary was killed. There are less friendly elephants in the park that destroy people’s crops, especially maize and cotton and during harvest time. People spend sleepless nights around fires near gardens to scare away the wild animals.
The farmers want the government to review the UWA policy regarding animals that invade their gardens. In 2010, farmers neighbouring the QENP lost about Shs1.8 billion in crops destroyed by elephants, monkeys and other wild animals, according to a May 2010 report by the Karughe Farmers partnership.
UWA maintains that the law does not indicate any compensation of farmers but urges cooperation between the two sides to curb animal invasion of the gardens.
Last year, two people were injured by stray bullets as security and UWA wardens pursued a stray elephant from gardens in Rukooki, Kasese District. This was after an 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. Queen Elizabeth National park is the only national park that has sanctuaries where the communities graze domestic animals. These include Hamukungu, Kasenyi, Kahendero, Katunguru and Katwe –Kabatooro. In all these areas, pastoralists graze in the national park even when government gave them free land in Bigando, Ibuga, Kabukero, Nkoko, Rwehingo, Nyakakindo after settling in the park from DR Congo in 2007.
Revenue sharing
UWA gives 20 per cent part of their gate revenue collections to the communities that surround the park as one way to make the communities be part of the tourism industry, however this has not solved the wildlife-human conflict.
UWA funds are used by the local authorities on interventions to the conflict such as digging trenches at Isango, Kanyangeya, bee hives at Kidodo, Karusandara, Rumuri in Rubirizi, planting thorny trees, as well as community projects like staff quarters at Hamukungu primary school at Kahokya primary school, dormitories at Hamukungu Secondary School, among others.
Close to Shs 4 billion has been given out by UWA to districts since 2003 as 20 per cent revenue sharing to help them solve the human-wildlife problems which have persisted everywhere.
Adamant in spite of earnings
Despite all this, residents say that if UWA does not compensate, government should clear their agricultural bank loans to save their properties since elephants eat only ready maize and other foods.
According to Rubirizi district chairperson, Selevester Agubashongorera, hippos escaped from the park and are living with communities in Rubirizi.
“Our MPs are doing us a disservice by not amending the UWA Act which does not spell out the compensation issues. We need the Act amended so that nobody is offended by the wild animals we protect. My people have lost their lives and properties but they have remained in agony because the law does not allow compensation to the losses caused,” argues Kule Joseph Muranga, Ruburizi Resident District Commissioner.
UWA Executive Director, Sam Mwandha argues that even if UWA does electric wire fencing around the park as locals want, this single intervention cannot solve the problem of wildlife –human conflict given the population increase and pressure on land.
However, the tourism minister says that the new bill before parliament on the wildlife-human conflict is going to solve some of the problems like compensation, harsh penalties to poachers among others.
Queen Elizabeth National Park has 10 fishing enclaves or sanctuaries that include, Hamukungu, Kasenyi, Katunguru, Katwe -kabatoro, Kayanja and Kahendero all in Kasese with pastoralist, traders and fishermen, Katunguru, Kashaka in Rubirizi for fishermen and traders; Rwenshama and Kishenyi in Rukungiri for traders and fishermen but the park is surrounded by farmers in every district.