Lina Akello, a mother of four in Aringo-Kech village, in Got-arroyo sub-county in Nwoya District, can no longer feed her family members or even take them to hospital because elephants have colonised her garden, depriving her of the opportunity to cultivate food on land she calls her own.
Akello’s family is one of the 400 households that have been affected by the invasion of elephants that cross over from Karuma Falls game reserve scavenge in people’s gardens in nearby Nwoya district.
“We usually dig our gardens here…but when we dig and plant crops, the elephants come and destroy everything. We have no food, no school fees. We have nothing to sell so we can go to the health centres,” laments Akello.
The cries of the people of Nwoya appear to have attracted the interest of land rights groups including the one that supported journalists and MPs to visit them to hear their side of the story.
But wildlife conservationists argue that the people of Nwoya often fall on the wrong side of the law when they cultivate in protected game reserves, as they have often been found. In fact, humans have not only breached the law stopping them from crossing into game reserves, they have gone ahead to kill elephants for their treasured ivory.
Last month, UWA, Uganda police officials arrested three men with banned ivory which obtained by killing a mature elephant in a nearby game reserve.
Except in such extreme situations when individuals are caught, elephants often disappear without a trace, and the residents usually celebrate rather mourn the loss of such rare animals.
As Akello demonstrated, she does not mind the well-being of animals, she does about hers. The increase in human settlements around Karuma due to increased traffic on the Kampala – Arua and Kampala-Gulu highway means that the conflict between humans and animals will only get worse as the scramble for land intensifies.
The construction of Karuma Hidro power dam has increased the human footprint in the game reserve and brought people in dangerously closer contact with animals.
“We also have fertile land, we have everything here but because of the destructions by the elephants we have leave our land and opt for casual jobs,” Akello explains.
Akello is not the only one suffering because of Elephants. Oboro Komakech is part of the large community in Nwoya district who are faced with land use rights violations resulting from wild elephant invasion for ten years now.
Komakech from Katinya village in Arinyo Sub-county in Nwoya District says he can no long grow food or even support his family because the invasion by elephants which has frustrated their livelihood that is dependent on Agriculture.
“When we dig, elephants from the park, come and destroy our food. Since 2007, we cannot even take our children to school. Before, if a person cultivated 2 acres of rice, they could get 50 bags of which you could get 3.8 million or four million shillings from those 2 acres. When you grew groundnuts, you could get something like 50 bags of which each bag could cost shillings Ushs130,000 which is equivalent to about Ushs3.9 million per year. So nowadays we cannot get money even to take our children to school because of wild Elephants,” Komakech.
This comes at a time when the Uganda Wildlife Authority Policy 2014 was passed by cabinet; however this has not helped the situation even such land rights violations are reported to the relevant authorities.
The Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Trade and Tourism, Flavia Kabahenda has called on the Uganda Wildlife Authority to expedite the required amendment in the law to ensure the 2014 Uganda Wildlife Authority policy is operationalized.
Kabahenda now calls on the Uganda Wildlife authority to expedite the process of presenting the amendments in the law before parliament in order for the policy to cater for compensation and resolve issues regarding human wildlife conflicts.
“UWA and Ministry of Tourism are working tooth and nail to make sure that they bring amendments to the UWA ACT to the effect that some kind of compensation is given and in the case of loss of lives we can only give some money to the family, so that they live after the death of their family member, so amendments to the UWA Act need to be brought. I only request that UWA and Ministry of Tourism hasten the process of bringing that bill so that it is passed and the issue of compensation and other related issues are addressed.
Kabahenda further encourages the local communities around the National parks to come up with tourism initiatives that can be supported by the Uganda wildlife Authority as alternative sources of income.
Kabahenda advised that in order to support community conservation, there is need for working with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to keep the animals because we cannot afford to kill them but the community should love to stay with the animals.
The local people can also even assist in getting them (animals) back to the park but at the same time looking at the Enterprise that can act as kind of compensation in case they lost their crops and livelihoods.
“I would like to call on all communities neighboring and hosting the national parks to come up with Enterprises which Wildlife Authority could support them on such that they can also have something to look at in case the animals raided their crops and their other livelihood support programs”-Kabahenda.
Kabahenda says that these enterprises may include putting up of hotels, craft shops; entertainment groups’ among others just like it has been done in the districts of Kisolo and Bulisa.
Berna Bakidde, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Service providers says that based on basic information; members of the general public whose plantations are destroyed by the wild animals are entitled to compensation from the state as longer as they operate outside the gazetted protected area.
Meanwhile she points out the need to improve on the revenue remittances to the district and communities by the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
Kabehenda says that at one point, Kisolo district was receiving remittances from Mgahinga and Bwindi national parks. For instance, in one year, they received Ushs694 million from collections.
“Yes they are dissatisfied and to us this looks like big money but the Authority is remitting less than what the district expected. For me Ushs694million to a district that is really faithful and if there is no corruption tendencies, I think it would go a long way in getting people some better health facilities, better roads somehow water, especially for communities that are closer to the parks”-Kabahenda.