Conflict between people and animals is one of the main threats to the continued survival of many species in different parts of the world, and is also a significant threat to local human populations.
As human populations expand and natural habitats shrink, people and animals are increasingly coming into conflict over living space and food. (Habitat is the minimum area necessary for a wildlife species to naturally survive. The area in which an animal moves is its range and the size of the range depends on the animal and its requirements.)
The impacts are often huge - people lose their crops and livestock (and therefore a source of income and food security), property, and sometimes their lives - even a severe injury caused by wildlife can result in a loss of livelihood. The animals, some of which are already threatened or even endangered, are sometimes killed in retaliation or to prevent future conflicts.
However, humans are largely responsible for human-wildlife conflicts through causing changes in the environment that hurt animals and plant species. We take up more space on Earth for our homes and cities. Because human populations are growing so fast, animals and plants are disappearing 1,000 times faster than they have in the past 65 million years.
Habitat destruction by human activity is mainly for the purpose of harvesting natural resources for industrial production and urbanisation. Clearing habitats for agriculture is the major cause of habitat destruction. Other causes are mining, logging, and urban sprawl. Therefore, human activity is by far the biggest cause of habitat loss.
The loss of wetlands, lakes, and other natural environments all destroy or degrade habitat, as do other human activities such as introducing invasive species, polluting, trading in wildlife, and engaging in wars. Globally, tens of thousands of species, including 25 per cent of all mammals and 13 per cent of birds – are now threatened with extinction because of human-caused problems. In different parts of Uganda, people are encroaching on protected areas for settlement, crop cultivation and animal grazing, while in other parts, they are clamouring for de-gazetting of protected areas.
In Bunyoro Sub-region, we are seeing a giveaway of Bugoma forest, which is a habitat for primates such as chimpanzees and monkeys. Reptiles, birds, butterflies, Uganda kobs, buffaloes, elephants and tree species, some of which are endemic to Bugoma forest, are also being affected by the giveaway.
This giveaway is setting a precedent to unscrupulous people to gradually claim other parts and eventually the forest will be no more. This will leave wildlife in the forest with only one option - to invade and wreak havoc in communities, cause destruction to crops and even human life.
Using the example of the giveaway of Bugoma forest, which provides good eco-tourism for sugarcane growing, we should ask ourselves whether we are preventing human-wildlife conflict or enhancing it, whether we are promoting tourism or killing it, whether we appreciate the long-term benefits of conservation or we want immediate and quicker benefits at the expense of a bigger society and the future generations.
Whereas the giveaway has short-term benefits to the givers, the long-term impacts are far-reaching, disastrous and affect us all. This kind of approach leaves us with two options: To kill wildlife and do away with it in essence killing the tourism industry and other conservation benefits.
Or live with increased attacks from wildlife as a result of us encroaching on its habitat. Communities in that area should prepare for the worst wildlife attacks ever!
Addressing this worrying trend needs a multi-institutional approach backed by political will and love for the country.
We need to ensure that wildlife habitats are protected as one way of minimising human-wildlife conflicts, promoting tourism, which is Uganda’s leading foreign exchange earner and conserving for the future generations. We should be worried now than ever before that human wildlife conflict is real and it is time for all of us to focus our efforts on measures that prevent habitat destruction and minimising human-wildlife conflict.
Mr Hangi is the communications manager, Uganda Wildlife Authority.