What you need to know:
- Petwa says he once witnessed in incident where elephants invaded Kasese Municipality Health Centre III and destroyed all the maize gardens in the premises as patients fled their wards.
In September 2020 six stray elephants invaded Kasese town from the nearby Queen Elizabeth National Park throwing residents into panic.
The wild beasts were driven back by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) staff for fear of being killed by the locals and injuring or killing people.
The September 2020 invasion by world’s largest existing land animals was just a repeat of what had been happening before the government erected an electric fence that was launched by the head of state in 2018 at Kyenzaza in Kyambura of Rubirizi District in western Uganda.
Mr Reuben Mwahulhwa, a businessman and proprietor of Verina Gardens in the heart of Kasese town is one of the victims of animal invasion.
“It was at around 6am when four elephants struck my fence enclosing my hotel and caused destruction on my premises”, Mwahulhwa said.
Mwahulhwa is not the only person who has been affected by the escape of elephants from Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area.
“Elephants have trespassed and attacked residents near Kasese airfield and razed down the fence erected by the airfield authorities. Majorly, they destroy our jackfruits and other plants around our homes. We usually bang jerrycans and light fire too scare them away,” narrates Kabugho Petwa, a resident of Saluti B cell Nyamwamba division and one of the immediate neighbors to Kasese airfield.
The elephants usually invade homes to eat jackfruits, mangoes and other plants that attract them.
Petwa says he once witnessed in incident where elephants invaded Kasese Municipality Health Centre III and destroyed all the maize gardens in the premises as patients fled their wards. It took the intervention of security personnel who fired gunshots to scare the animals away.
The same incident was witnessed at Kidodo Health Centre II. Here, it was the game rangers who saved the situation.
Locals whose homes are adjacent to the conservation area, especially in Kidodo cell in Railway ward, Kanyangeya cell, Kyondo and Kirembe have equally been victimized by elephants.
After several fruitless complaints to UWA, the locals resorted to hiring other people to sleep guard along the Kasese-Mbarara highway to block the animals from escaping into their gardens.
The able-bodied men would sneak into the park and cut dried up trees and light fire where they would spend a night banging jerrycans to scare away the wild beasts.
Additionally, some community members dug trenches while others installed beehives, planted red paper or thorny plants on the park boundaries to protect themselves from the beasts.
However, all these tactics did not help as the animals continued invading their homes.
The misery experienced by communities surrounding the park forced the Kasese District chairperson, Eliphaz Muhindi Bukombi to raise alarm.
According to him, the elephants have not only been known for destroying people’s crop gardens but also killing residents.
On June 16, 2022, a man in his early 50s was attacked and killed by a stray elephant in Bigando village Kitswamba Sub County.
Osbert Nuwamanya was guarding his maize garden when he was mauled by an elephant at around 10pm. Nuwamanya was the fifth person to be killed by the elephants in a span of just two years in Kasese District.
“Crops had been eaten, houses destroyed and people killed by elephants in a space of two years”, Muhindi said.
According to him, the situation progressively changed when the government started erecting electric solar fences around the park. This followed President Museveni’s pledge during the 2011 electoral campaigns.
Following several petitions and suit threats Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) said they would continue engaging in community senstatization about human-wildlife conflict and how it can avoided.
The authority’s communication officer, Mr Bashir Hangi said once a compensation clause is included into the new law, the affected persons would be catered for.
Kasese is one of the leading districts in poaching in the country, according to the Chief Warden for Queen Elizabeth national park, Mr. Pontius Ezuma.
Mr Ezuma said whereas Kasese district gets the lion’s share of the revenue collections for hosting the biggest part of the park, it leads in poaching compared to their counterparts in Uganda.
Ezuma called for joint efforts aimed at stopping poaching that frustrates plans for protecting and conserving nature in Kasese district and the country at large.
He says the elephant population is currently high based on the 2018 wildlife census where UWA registered 3, 953 elephants in Queen Elizabeth national park up from 2,913 elephants in 2015.
The growth in elephant population in the park has been brought about by the human settlements that have blocked the former elephant corridors in which they used to pass as they migrated to other areas in the same ecosystem such as Virunga national park in DR Congo and to Mount Rwenzori and Kibale national parks.
“Of recent years the human population has increased and constructed in the corridors which has blocked the free movements of wildlife and this forces the elephants to stray into people’s gardens, thus enhancing conflicts within the community but on the other hand it has boosted tourism. Queen Elizabeth is one of the top tourist’s destinations in Uganda,” Ezuma said.
“The destruction of animal habitats due to human activities compels the wild animals to enter human settlements in search of food and water leading to conflicts,” Ezuma observes.
However, to reduce the human-wildlife conflicts, Ezuma says UWA had set up an electric fence in some parts of the park and also trained the communities at the periphery of the park to rear apiary that prevents some problem animals from straying into people’s gardens.