Two stray elephants injured two people as they tried to chase them out of their gardens, the previous week. The wild animals feasted on crops that belonged to people around the Hamukungu area of Kasese District, bordering Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Another sad incident reported was a one-year-old child who was killed by a leopard in Kasenyi village, along with a goat and three hens that belonged to Sunday Bamunoba.
Bamunoba was lucky to have woken up in time to save his cows as the leopard approached the kraal. He is bitter that no compensation has been made by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) officials in the park.
One of the witnesses, Philip Kiboneka, proprietor of a lodge in Kasenyi, disclosed that UWA officials were called to catch the wild animals and take them back to the park, but it took a while for them to respond.
According to Bamunoba, when the wild animal became restless, in the presence of an angry audience, a policeman shot it dead.
The village chairperson, Sylestine Byaruhanga, says Kasenyi continues to endure the pain of losing people and livestock to wild animals that stray from the national park.
The human-wildlife conflict seems to have spurred an unhealthy relationship between UWA management of Queen Elizabeth National Park and the neighbouring communities.
“Our parents had better relations with UWA compared to today. UWA respected the fact that the communities surrounding the park were cattle keepers and officials allowed domestic animals to co-exist with wild ones within the park in this corridor,” narrates Emmanuel Ahimbisibwe, head teacher of Hamukungu Primary School.
“The park managers used to reach out to communities instantly. All this has changed,” he says.
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) defines human–wildlife conflict as any interaction between humans and wildlife that culminates into negative impact on human socio-economic or cultural life, conservation of wildlife populations, or on the environment.
Better relations back in the day
According to Richard Wamala, a former district councillor, the park was introduced in 1952, at a time when communities were already in existence. “It is unfortunate that in 2000, there was a policy that when a cow crosses into the park, there should be negotiations. We had receipts from the sub-county for payment of fines, after our animals crossed into the park. The sub-county would share the money with park officials,” he says.
He adds that the sub-county would take 80 per cent share of the encroachment fines while the park took 20.
He sadly narrates how management withdrew the policy without the consent of the community. “Our cows are confiscated and taken into kraals of the park without the consent of the community. People are taken to court, charged, and asked to pay huge sums as damages. This is the cause of the scuffle between park management and the community,” says Wamala.
Tour operators want dispute resolved
Wamala appeals to The Association of Uganda Tour Operators (Auto) to lobby for compensation. “For example, I was attacked by a lion in Nyakatonzi and UWA officials did not compensate me. We need compensation of at least 50 per cent, if we are injured, killed, or our cows and crops are destroyed,” he laments.
“I appeal to UWA to give access to water points within the park to the neighbouring communities. We request UWA to respond to our challenges,” John Irumba, the chairperson of Kyasendo village in Nyakatonzi, says.
The people in Hamukungu and Nyakatonzi say they face harsh treatment from park rangers and managers, unfair revenue sharing with the park officials, unfair penalties and employment considerations from UWA, among other grievances.
AUTO, which brings together 250 professional tour operators, has come out to arbitrate the row between UWA and the communities.
The association’s board member, Farouk Busuulwa, notes that as key stakeholders that engage in tourism in national parks, it is incumbent upon them to improve relations between communities and UWA.
“We are aware that many people have come to interact with you regarding the challenges that you face as communities neigbouring national parks. But not much has been done to improve the relationship with UWA,” says Busuulwa.
He says the association will compile a comprehensive report, engage UWA officials and other stakeholders to forge a way forward. Busuulwa promised to report back to the locals within the community in three months.
UWA to strengthen relations
Sam Mwandha, the executive director of UWA, says: “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 cannot confirm the figure, but a good sum of money will be given to the local people at different parishes.”
Mwandha adds that UWA will give revenue based on the population and the length of boundary.
Asked whether he knows about the mistreatment of local people by the wardens, Mwandha says he was not aware of the allegations. “If someone illegally enters the national park, they are arrested and taken to court where a decision is made. Obviously, we have neighbours who are living in the community around national parks.”
He adds: “We shall work together to ensure that arrests are minimised. Our communities need to appreciate the need to protect the wildlife. Our goal is to ensure that we strengthen our relationship with the people in the community.”
UWA’s director says the authority does not compensate victims because there is no law to that effect. “With our limited resources, we express compassion to those that have suffered any losses, through compensation.”
Wildlife Bill in the offing
“A new law was passed in Parliament but has not yet been assented to. When it is approved, and necessary guidelines and regulations are put in place, we will be able to compensate,” he further explains. The Uganda Wildlife Bill seeks to provide for compensation for loss of life and property caused by animals escaping from wildlife protected areas.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, considering the actual population growth rate of humans, increasing demand for natural resources and the growing pressure for access to land, it is clear that the human-wildlife conflict will not be eliminated in the near future. However, it needs to be urgently and tactfully managed.
Strategies to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts in Mozambique as documented by J.L. Anderson and F. Pariela indicate that very few staff have practical experience in dealing with human-wildlife conflict.
“As both the human and wildlife populations increase, and people occupy new land, the level of conflict starts to increase. This unresolved human-wildlife conflict is creating negative attitude towards both a government and proposed new wildlife related developments. In view of this, the national government understands the urgent need to reduce the levels of conflict, to ensure that where people live with wildlife, the benefits are greater than the costs.”
One of the short term strategies include the adoption of a human-wildlife mitigation policy.
A study undertaken by Ogada et al looked at Eastern African traditional systems of livestock husbandry and explored the effectiveness of various types of fencing.
In northern Kenya, Laikipia District, pastoralists used to gather their cattle and keep them inside enclosures at night, when most carnivore attacks take place. They use different traditional techniques, which are popular among Maasai and Samburu communities. The enclosures are made of stone or wooden posts (solid), acacia brush (acacia) or branches woven around cedar.
Other countries dealing with human-wildlife conflict include Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania, among others.
According to Samuel Mugisha, director of Bic Tours and Travel, Kenya is a good example when it comes to managing human-wildlife conflict. He explains that in Maasai Mara, neighbouring communities can graze livestock within conservation areas.
The World Bank has supported the Northern Botswana Human Wildlife Co-existence Project under the Department of Wildlife and National Parks with approaches of chili pepper plant fences surrounding the plants to deter elephants which detest the smell or taste of chili. Pepper is also used when marking bricks which, with the help of the wind, sends a strong smell of pepper in the direction of elephants and discourages advancing to the communities. Other methods recommended by World Bank include use of bee fences as perimeter facility to deter elephants from getting close to the neighboring communities. Electric predator proof fence kraals are also useful since they are high enough to chase off animals.
What UWA officials say
Sam Mwandha, the executive director of UWA, says: “In the last one year, we have not undertaken any revenue sharing. We are working on projects to share revenue at parish level.
UWA will give revenue based on the population and the length of boundary.
We are working towards minimising arrests but our communities need to appreciate the need to protect the wildlife. Our goal is to ensure that we strengthen our relationship with the local people.”
The human-wildlife conflict seems to have spurred an unhealthy relationship between UWA management of Queen Elizabeth National Park and the neighbouring communities. “Our parents had better relations with UWA compared to today. UWA appreciated the fact that the communities surrounding the park were cattle keepers and officials allowed domestic animals to co-exist with wild ones within the park corridor. The park managers used to reach out to communities instantly. All this has changed,” narrates Emmanuel Ahimbisibwe, head teacher of Hamukungu Primary School.