Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Uganda: Elephants threatening IDP livelihoods

Source: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs - Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)

Photo: World Wildlife Fund

Former internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in northern Ugandan regions bordering the Murchison Falls National Park are struggling to resettle because persistent elephant incursions into their fields are threatening their livelihoods, and sometimes, their lives.

"[After] I found the elephants eating my crops in the garden, I started banging an empty jerry can to scare them but one of the big elephants charged at me. I was lucky because I ran in between the trees and the elephant stopped. I gave up my garden of millet and rice," Mateo Ojok, a resident of Gony Cyoko village in Nwoya District, told IRIN.

"[Life in] this place is a struggle between the elephants and human beings. The elephants are giving us a hard time, they are really aggressive."

The former IDPs left government protection camps set up at the height of the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel attacks in the north in 2006 to settle in the areas of Koch-Goma, Alero, Corner Nwoya, Anaka, Purongo, Ongako and Alokolum in Nwoya.

But the local government is ill-equipped to deal with the elephant problem, Nwoya district chairman Okello Oryema, said.

The human-wildlife conflict has taken its toll - two people were killed and 11 others injured by elephants in Nwoya in July.

The elephants ranged free in Nwoya before the IDPs' arrival, the chief warden with the Uganda Wildlife Authority at Murchison's Park, Tom Okello Obong, told IRIN.

"Elephants are very intelligent; they have a strong natural instinct. They have known this place for so many years," said Obong.

In August and September, elephant herds crossed into farming fields in large numbers, causing substantial crop losses - an adult elephant can consume between 350-500kg of foliage in a day, according to Obong; "that is why they have eaten the crops in the area so badly".

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the annual cost of elephant raids to crops in Africa ranges from US$60 in Uganda to $510 in Cameroon per affected farmer.

With funding from the NGO CARE International and the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the former IDPs are hoping to dig a 24km, 3m wide and 4m deep trench along some of the areas bordering the park to control the elephants' movement.

"Maybe it [the trench] will help reduce their crossing," Gloria Akisa Amanue, the programme coordinator with CARE International in Gulu District, also in the north, told IRIN. "We should have dug a trench around the whole park but we don't have the money."

According to Ogong, the most appropriate measure would be having an electric fence around the park but this is expensive and would require an uninterrupted electricity supply.

Wildlife officials have also used other measures to drive off the elephants, including red chilli pepper, shooting to scare them and the burning of elephant dung, along with the sensitization of residents on how to minimize attacks. Chilli pepper can be grown around crops that elephants like to eat or burnt with elephant dung to produce a pungent smoke.

On 5 December, three elephants, said to be among the herd leaders, were fitted with microchip satellite collars for tracking. "If successful; we shall be in a position to monitor their movements every second, wherever they are. If they stray out of the park they will be driven back before causing destruction," Ogong added