The human-wildlife conflict is a sticky one, spurred by an unhealthy relationship between Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) management of Queen Elizabeth National Park and the communities that neighbour it.
“Our parents had better relations with UWA compared to today. There were some user rates. UWA respected the fact that the communities surrounding the park were of herders and allowed cows to continue existing in this corridor.
The park managers used to reach out to communities very fast. All this has changed,” explains Emmanuel Ahimbisibwe, head teacher of Hamukungu Primary School.
Human–wildlife conflict is defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) as any interaction between humans and wildlife that results in negative impacts on human social, economic or cultural life, on the conservation of wildlife populations, or on the environment.
According to Richard Wamala, a former district councillor, the park was introduced in 1952, a time when communities were already in existence.
“It is unfortunate that, in 2,000 there was a policy that when a cow crosses into the park, there should be negotiations. We had receipts from Sub County for payment of fines after our cows crossed into the park. The Sub County would share the money with the park.”
He adds that the Sub County would take an 80 percent share from the fines while the park took 20 percent from the encroachment fine.
Sadly, he says the park management removed that policy without the consent of the community, now the cows being arrested and taken into kraals of the park without the consent of the community and people are being taken to court and charged a lot of money which, according to him is the source of a ‘wrong heart’ among community members towards the park.
The Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) which brings together 250 professional tour operators, has come out to mitigate between UWA and the communities.
The association’s board member, Farouk Busuulwa, said that as key stakeholders that engage in tourism business in national parks, it is incumbent upon them to improve relations between communities and the UWA as custodians of national parks.
“We are aware about that many people have come to interact with you, to ask about your challenges but nothing has been done to improve the situation especially where your relationship with UWA are concerned. I pledge that from our findings, we are going to compile a report and interface with UWA and other stakeholders to find a way forward on a forging an amicable relationship. We are going to work on your issues and report back in three months,” Busuulwa assured locals.
Auto interacted with communities in Hamukungu and Nyakatonzi who presented grievances of harsh treatment from park rangers and managers, uncertainty of revenue sharing with the park, unfair penalties and employment considerations from UWA.
Sam Mwandha, the Executive Director of UWA responded to the issues. “In the last one year, we have not given out any revenue sharing. Currently, we are working on projects where we are going to share revenue at parish level. I don’t have a figure off head but it should be in the region of Shs2b that is going to be passed on to parishes, not the district but off course the district, because it has to supervise, will be involved.”
He added that some districts are ready and others are not. UWA will give revenue to those who are ready, based on the population and the length of boundary.
In regard to the harsh treatment from wardens, Mr Mwandha said that he had not heard about the matter. “As far as I know, if someone is a poacher or illegally enters into the national park, they are arrested and taken to court where a decision is made but obviously we have neighbours who are the communities.”
He added, “We work together to find a way of ensuring that we do not have the arrests continue. We really need to get the communities to appreciate the need to protect the wildlife but also for us to act humanely.”
Survived lion attack
Wamala called on Auto to push the issue of compensation.
“For example, I was attacked by a lion here (in Nyakatonzi). It is unfortunate that the park did not compensate me. If we lose cows or crops, let the park introduce compensation of at least 50 percent,” he explained.
Wamala was rescued by fellow community members who came around and chased the wild animal after being alerted by his alarm. He still has a deep scar on his right leg.
He said he was attacked recently when a lion crossed from Queen Elizabeth National Park, in South Western Uganda. Wamala is a resident of Nyakatonzi, a neighboring community to the park. Lions and other wild animals cross from the park in search of food in the neighboring communities.
UWA’s director said the authority does not compensate because there is no law to that effect. “Within out limited resources, we show compassion. A new law was passed in parliament but has not yet been accented to. When it is accented to, with necessary guidelines and regulations have been put in place, we will be able to compensate,” he further explained.
“My request is that UWA should consider letting us, as neighbours, to access water points in the national park. As neighbours, they should be able to listen to our challenges,” John Irumba, chairperson Local Council 1, Kyasendo village in Nyakatonzi.