Uganda: Elephants trample on returnees’ livelihoods in the north (IRIN)

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Mateo Ojok recently resettled in Nwoya district, northern Uganda, after living in a government protection camp for more than four years. After living through political unrest, he now faces danger of a different kind: elephants plundering his garden.

Mr. Ojok says, “[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.” He ran in amongst some trees and the animal stopped. The elephant destroyed his garden of millet and rice, and Mr. Ojok was lucky to escape.

People in northern Uganda who left their homes because of political unrest are struggling to resettle on the edge of Murchison Falls National Park. Elephants often trample farmers’ fields, damaging lives and livelihoods. In July, two people were killed and 11 others injured by elephants. In August and September, elephant herds caused substantial crop losses. Mr. Ojok says, “[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.”

Tom Okello Obong is chief warden with the Uganda Wildlife Authority in Murchison Park. He says that the elephants ranged free before Mr. Ojok and others arrived. He explains, “Elephants are very intelligent; they have a strong natural instinct. They have known this place for so many years.”

Now, Mr. Ojok and other new residents are hoping to dig a trench 24 kilometres long, three metres wide and four metres deep. The trench will border some, but not all, areas of the park. It will limit the elephants’ movements. The Uganda Wildlife Authority and the NGO CARE International are supporting this effort.

Gloria Akisa Amanue is program coordinator with CARE International in northern Uganda. She says, “Maybe it [the trench] will help reduce their crossing. We should have dug a trench around the whole park but we don’t have the money.”

According to Mr. Obong, the most effective measure would be to build an electric fence around the park. But this is expensive and would require an uninterrupted electricity supply.

Wildlife officials have used other measures to drive off the elephants. Chilli pepper can be grown around crops that elephants like to eat, or burnt with elephant dung to produce a pungent smoke which the animals avoid. Officials visit local residents and talk about how to minimize invasions.

Meanwhile, the search for solutions continues. On December 5th, three elephants, said to be among the herd leaders, were fitted with microchip satellite collars. Mr. Obong says, “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.”