UGANDA: Displaced first by war, now by elephants

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Marauding elephants in northern Uganda have added to the challenges faced by civilians trying to rebuild their lives in the wake of 20 years of civil war, destroying their crops and prompting some to return to displaced people’s (IDP) camps they had only recently left.

"The villagers are scared of the elephants; some of them have sought refuge in huts they had left in the [IDP] camps," John Bosco Okullo, a local leader in Amuru District told IRIN.

Most affected are hundreds of returnees from six IDP camps - Goma, Anaka, Purongo, Ongako, Corner Nwoya, and Aler, all in Amuru District - whose crops have also been eaten by wildebeest roaming the villages in search of water and pasture.

Some of the returnees have had narrow escapes from attacks by wildebeest competing for the same land that the villagers are returning to.

Jackson Lukwiya, 78, from Koch village, said his 10 hectares of bananas had been destroyed by elephants.

"A few days ago a man was thrashed beyond recognition by a charging calving elephant that had strayed into the village; we are worried," Lukwiya said.

He said some families were now commuting from IDP camps to cultivate their land for fear of being killed.

Earlier this year, a group of people were attacked by elephants crossing the main Koch-Lalworodwong village road in Alero village. The elephants also trampled on a bicycle belonging to one of those attacked, Lukwiya said.

Local leaders have vowed to kill the elephants marauding in the area.

Okullo said: "We shall organise the community to send back the elephants if the concerned authorities fail."

Another resident said if one elephant were killed, the rest would automatically go away.

Human-wildlife conflict

Okullu said the elephants had destroyed the crops of up to 800 people in his village.

"Crops like bananas, millet, sweet potatoes, beans, cassava, maize, yams, have been uprooted and eaten," he said.
Area residents accused the government of prioritising wildlife over the welfare of returning IDPs - in reference to the government's failure to revise the law on wild protected animals.

Between May and July, an estimated 100 elephants from the park roamed villages in Gulu and Amuru, ravaging crops and interrupting the reintegration of IDPs.

Uganda's wildlife senior conservation officer, Stonewall Kato, told IRIN in Gulu that in recent years there has been an explosion in the number of elephants in the park, forcing some to stray out in search of water and food.

"It's a problem, but the law prohibits the killing of wild life. We have dispatched a team of rangers to drive the elephants back," Kato said.

Moreover, Kato said, most people in the district had been living in IDP camps for about 20 years and their original villages had become forested, attracting the elephants and other wild animals.

He said a team from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, accompanied by local leaders and community representatives, recently visited neighbouring Kenya's Tsavo National Park to find out more on elephant control measures being undertaken by communities in Kenya.
"We have started digging trenches at the elephants' crossing point, supporting community bee-keeping projects because the buzzing sound of bees drives elephants away, and we have [set up] ranger stations for scare-shooting in the villages around," he said.

Kato said an estimated 1,500 elephants stray out of the park to villages yearly.

The Ugandan government is ensuring that some of the money generated from the tourism industry is injected into community projects bordering national parks, such as the building of schools, skills training and other community income-generating projects.

"This is a way of compensating the affected community," Kato said.