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Locals Demand Training from UWA to Drive Away Elephants

AMURU - Amuru and Nwoya Districts of Northern Uganda have for long been affected by wild animals mostly elephants which stray from Murchison Falls National Game Park.

At least a handful of people have lost their lives to attacks by these wild animals with over 100 getting injured in the process of driving them back to the game parks.

The most recent tragedy was registered in Lakang sub-county, some 100 km West of Gulu City where a 60-year-old woman, identified as Esther Akwongo was crushed to death and two others identified as Denis Odora and a teenager Brian Okello lost their legs and suffered dislocated hips after being attacked by the elephants on 07thJuly, 2021.

The elephants which first invaded the villages of Bana, Lajalula and Padolo B in May this year have also destroyed more than 25 huts and 1000 acres of food crops from the gardens of at least 250 people in Lakang sub-county.

In Nwoya district, the sub-counties of Lii, Anaka, Lungulu and Got Apwoyo are some of the most  affected areas by elephant invasions.

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Residents of villages most prone to the invasion by elephants now want the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), which is in-charge of protecting and preserving wildlife in Uganda to train and equip members of the community on how to drive away the elephants when they invade them.

William Okia Manaci, the Local Council 1 (LC1) Chairperson Bana village, in Lakang sub-county, Amuru district says, annually elephants invade the area destroying crops and injuring people yet they get slow intervention by Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers to drive away the wild animals.

Okia says training members of the community mostly youths, equipping them with the basics such as gumboots, torches, rain coats among others would help in driving away the wild animals before they can destroy their crops, attack and even kill members of their community.

According to Okia, the consistent invasion by the elephants has left several people in his village homeless with no food to eat because their crops that they had hopes of harvesting in three months were destroyed.

Irene Amony, a resident of Lajalula village also in Lakang sub-county says that the continuous invasion by the wild animals, not just elephants has left them in panic and fear for their lives and their crops.

Amony who lost 1 acre of millet and maize and a quarter acre of potatoes says she’s not sure about  how she will feed her family as a widow.

Anthony Oringa, the Lakang sub-county chairperson says they have recorded cases of invasions by buffaloes and lions too in the past two years.

Oringa says, in 2020, more than 240 acres of food crops mostly rice was destroyed by buffaloes and 13 cows were killed by lions in Lakang sub-county.

Training youths from the sub-county to scare and drive away the wild animals would help save our lives, our animals and crops.

Justine Oryema, a resident of Lajalula village  who is a brother to the injured Denis Odora who was attacked and injured along with his son Okello, says they have been hearing the government talking about demarcating the borderlines for the game parks and community land to finally settle the conflict between the wild animals and humans but which might not come soon.

Besides training the youths, Oryema wants Uganda Wildlife Authority to consider recruiting some of the youths from the communities to help in driving away the wild animals in case they invade them because most times, the rangers take far too long to intervene even when informed.

"If UWA rangers who were based in Adjumani district came to our rescue when we first reported the invasion of the elephants in June,2021, we wouldn't have lost our mother, Akwongo". Oryema narrates.

Justine Ajaji, the Chairperson of Lii sub-county in Nwoya district says for their case, more than 200 youths were trained some two years ago and materials such as gumboots, vuvuzelas, rain coats among others were given to help them scare and drive away the elephants.

However, the youth groups eventually dispersed due to lack of motivation from Uganda Wildlife Authority.

Ajaji observes that for example in Lii sub-county, there’s a ranger post with only three rangers serving the three parishes which are prone to invasions by the elephants.

"If UWA can recruit young men to work as rangers in these areas, it would be very feasible because they understand the dimensions and the areas better than the rangers who are posted in the range posts.”

Charles Tumwesigye, the Director Operations, Uganda Wildlife Authority attributes the delay in intervention of the rangers to the recent history of violent attacks against them by the community members. Locals from Amuru and Adjumani districts have since 2015 been embroiled in disputes over land which has left at least 10 people dead in violent clashes.

Tumwesigye explains that the areas stretching from Murchison Falls National Game Park via Kilak, Atiak to Nimule in South Sudan are in the pathways of the elephants for decades.

"We will continue to experience invasions of elephants if the boundary lines are not demarcated and fenced," he added.

According to Tumwesigye, they are currently understaffed and lack finances to carry out training, facilitate or motivate the youths trained as scouts in mostly Nwoya and Oyam districts.

Martin Magara, the State Minister for Wildlife, Tourism and Inequities says that following a board meeting held recently, community members surrounding game parks will be trained and others recruited by the Uganda Wildlife Authority to prevent massive destruction of crops, or lives of animals and human beings but also support local economy.

"It's now a policy agreed upon by the board of directors of Uganda Wildlife Authority and government that in the subsequent recruitment to follow, the communities surrounding the game reserves and those from families affected by the invasion of wild animals should be considered first, so we will not only train community members but also recruit people permanently by UWA."

According to Magara, the government is looking for resources to fence all the game reserves and parks in Uganda which is being done in phases due to lack of finances as well as the huge coverage areas.

Uganda has a total of ten national game parks, 12 game parks covered by Murchison Falls National Game Park believed to be Uganda's largest national park measuring approximately 3,893 square kilometers (1,503 square miles). The Park is bisected by the Victoria Nile from East to West for a distance of about 115 kilometers.

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