October 16, 2021

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For the locals near the park, wildlife encounters are not a safari

KAZINGA UPPER CELL, UGANDA – Molly Malwaliro woke with a start. It was 3 am and the anguished bleating of his goats pierced the nightly stillness of this western Ugandan village, a remote patch of wild bushes, tall grass and fields of corn, bananas and cassava. Malwaliro grabbed a flashlight. On tiptoe for his house. Eked opened the back door and pointed the light at his goat barn. He saw a pair of large glowing eyes.

She slammed the door and called her children, ages 8 and 10. There is an animal in the stable, he said. They grabbed the cans and slammed the containers against each other to scare him. The racket also alerted the neighbors, who arrived armed for the battle with spears, sticks, machetes. But the animal was gone.

A large animal romping in the community of 600 was not unusual. Next door is Uganda’s second largest national park, Queen Elizabeth, 1,978 square kilometers (764 square miles) of craggy mountains and lush greenery near the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is the only park in the country, and one of the few in the world, where visitors can watch lions climbing trees laze on branches like house cats do on windowsills.

But Uganda’s national parks often frustrate neighbors. Locals usually can’t enjoy their majesty – there are too many predators to hike or picnic. Instead, mainly foreign tourists pay drivers to go on a safari around, too expensive treks for many residents. And although some entry fee income is shared with neighboring villages, residents often feel abandoned.

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Nakisanze Segawa, GPJ Uganda

All that separates Queen Elizabeth National Park from neighboring communities are trenches approximately 1.5 meters (5 feet) wide. Buffaloes, baboons, and other animals regularly jump on them.

In a 2019 report, the Uganda Wildlife Authority recorded more than 4,600 cases of human-wildlife conflict in and around the country’s 10 national parks. The main antagonists were elephants, buffaloes, hippos and crocodiles. This represented a decrease in accidents compared to the previous year. But the attacks still resulted in 21 human deaths, including four people killed by Queen Elizabeth crocodiles.

Ben Ntale, a wildlife conservationist, blames the development in the former animal habitat and migration routes. “If they still know in their memory that I can walk this path to access food and water, they will continue to follow that path. They have a mental map of the place, “he says.” Humans have invaded the spaces of these animals and then come back to complain that the animals disturb us. “

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Even so, Queen Elizabeth is a particularly irritating neighbor. It’s the only national park without a true border separating it from surrounding villages, says Sam Mwandha, executive director of the wildlife authority. In other parks, large areas of land act as barriers between man and nature. At Queen Elizabeth, elephants, baboons and warthogs easily climb over trenches about 1.5 meters (5 feet) wide.

“The animals come at night, mostly after midnight, when it’s quiet and most people are asleep … to eat and destroy crops,” says local leader Mbabazi Gad. In recent years, a resident has died while chasing buffaloes from his garden; another was injured while chasing a leopard. The park is home to more than 100 lions, and the Wildlife Authority report noted a recent increase in the number of big cats roaming Queen Elizabeth’s communities.

As easily as wildlife can sneak out, offenders can sneak in. Some collect firewood or medicinal plants. Some have more nefarious plans. In March, six lions were killed by Queen Elizabeth; Police said in a statement that two locals and a traditional healer admitted poisoning them. Authorities have recovered three lion heads, 15 legs and a container of animal fat, often used in purification rituals.

“Humans have invaded the spaces of these animals and then come back to complain that the animals disturb us.”wildlife conservationist

Recognizing that killing wildlife could harm conservation efforts and tourism, the government began building an electric fence around Queen Elizabeth with the help of a conservation charity. They have completed about 42 kilometers (26 miles) of fencing, but have more than 1,900 kilometers (1,180 miles) to go.

And that doesn’t help farmers whose livelihoods have been destroyed. When a villager’s fields are devastated, so too is his ability to feed his family or afford his children’s school fees. Officials have suggested villagers to grow onions, which wild animals despise, or raise bees, whose buzz keeps elephants away, but these aren’t economically viable options for everyone.

Ronald Kanyesigye collects beans on half an acre near the park. It is not unusual for baboons and warthogs to binge in his garden. “In November of last year, I woke up and found all my corn eaten by elephants. It was very devastating, “he says.” I had grown that food for home consumption, but it all disappeared overnight. “Kanyesigye reported his loss to wildlife officials, hoping for a refund. He says he never received it. reply.

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Nakisanze Segawa, GPJ Uganda

Ronald Kanyesigye takes care of his bean field near Queen Elizabeth National Park. “In November of last year, I woke up and found all my corn eaten by elephants,” he says.

One-fifth of the park’s entry fees go to the elected district councils, which distribute billions of Ugandan shillings among the communities adjacent to the park. The latest batch of money, in 2018, helped the council buy goats for the residents, says Gad Jomahangi, former vice president of the district that includes Kazinga Upper Cell.

But the council does not compensate people for property damage caused by wildlife, injury or death. This is the responsibility of the Uganda Wildlife Authority. A 2019 law requires the agency to set aside 2% of the revenue to provide compensation, but officials have yet to distribute the payments, says Mwandha, a wildlife authority official.

“We have no regulations on how to compensate, who checks the complaints, who decides how much will be compensated,” he says, although the tourism ministry is expected to finalize these regulations in the coming months.

Such a fund would have helped Malwaliro. After the animal ransacked his stable in 2012, he discovered the carcasses of all nine of his goats. Each was worth about 180,000 shillings (about $ 50). Almost a decade later, she’s back to just five goats, but she also raises bananas, corn and coffee.

The morning after the accident, neighbors traced the animal’s footprints in a forest near Malwaliro’s house. There, under a tree: a lioness. Wildlife officials tried to trap the lion, but it didn’t move, Malwaliro says, so neighbors threw stones and spears. The lion launched himself. Officials shot him to death.

[ https://globalpressjournal.com/africa/uganda/locals-near-national-park-wildlife-encounters-no-safari/ https://d26toa8f6ahusa.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/30214746/a-quiet-place-part-2-bigs-16.pdf