Cases of human-wildlife conflict are so common in Uganda and they are more pronounced in areas around game reserves. Recently it was reported that a 2-year old boy had been swallowed and later vomited by a hippo at Lake Katwe, near Queen Elizabeth national park in western Uganda. This also followed another sad incident in which about 9 lions were reported to have been killed by poison in the same national park. Such incidents have become rampant of recent and the government through the Uganda Wildlife Authority and other stakeholders are looking for remedies.
The hippos vs human conflict
The Hippos are semi-aquatic animals which spend much time during hot sunny days in freshwater lakes and rivers. They normally come out of water to graze during evening hours. On cool days, however, hippos can stay out of water for sometime.
A full grown adult male hippo can weigh up to 1,500 – 1,800 kg and is the 3rd largest animal in the world. They use their sharp teeth to attack or defend themselves. People who live closer to the freshwater Great Lakes of Africa, rivers, and swamps are 80% likely to encounter hippos and aquatic animals such as Nile crocodiles (MDPI).
The hippo human conflict is responsible for the loss of over 500 lives per year (NAT GEO Kids) in Sub Saharan Africa. This is to a large extent attributed to the growing human population where people share the same habitats with wild animals. Such conflicts have become common in East Africa’s protected areas including Lake Naivasha National Park, Kenya.The Lake George and Lake Edward and Kazinga channel basin in Queen Elizabeth National Park has over 6000 hippos.
As such, Uganda is probably one of the best places in Africa with the most hippos. Kasese district has over 747,000 people living west of Kasenyi plains of which 22,400 live on the shores of Lake Edward in the Lake Katwe sub county.
(UWA) acknowledges that both people and wildlife are a threat to one another. This is especially in Kasese district where there’s no fence or wall that separates the park from the community.
Promotion of aquaculture
People living around the lake basin have traditionally relied on fish for food and income, though wildlife is a key resource. There are over 9 landing sites around Queen Elizabeth National Park including Rwenshama integrated modern fishing site. It is likely that fishermen will come into contact with hippos and sometimes Nile crocodiles as well as exert pressure on the fish resources. The fish processing plant at Rwenshama is solar powered and was therefore developed to promote modern fish farming (aquaculture) with the aim to regulate hippo-human conflict while addressing food security and poverty. The daily supply of fish is estimated at 25kg of fish which supports the livelihoods of many people including 60 boat owners, fish traders in the 14 town councils across the Katwe Kabatoro sub county. People are able to spend time tending to their fish farms which gradually is projected to decrease contact with hippos at the lakes.
Hippos are not the only animals that disturb people. The promotion of aquaculture is also not sufficient enough to offer solutions to the general human-wildlife and land conflicts in Uganda’s 10 national parks and 13 wildlife reserves.Wildlife is managed by the government on behalf of and for the benefit of the people of Uganda. (The Uganda Wildlife Act, 2019).
However, there are conservation protocols that completely prohibit human activities from taking place within protected areas. UWA is obligated to manage wildlife within protected areas but doesn’t have the right to control wildlife on private lands of which almost 50% of the wildlife live outside protected areas. Mitigating human wildlife conflicts therefore is an opportunity for government, NGOs and private land owners to come together for a common goal – conserving for generations.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) latest report, there’s a need to rethink the way that the existing wildlife conservation policy operates. For instance, how private landowners might gain from taking part in tourism and managing wildlife on their farms. Addressing human wildlife conflicts rather requires concerted efforts across different sectors including fishing, cultural tourism, agriculture, education and research.
Wildlife research and education
UWA has recently improved the relationship between people and wildlife. Traditional ways such as planting tea and digging trenches are embracing innovative ways such as wildlife research and education. High quality research acts as a guide for conservationists and government policy towards addressing the challenge of human wildlife conflict. According to the Uganda Wildlife Research Institute (UWRI) people need to be trained with necessary skills from the grass-root level on how to professionally manage and sustain wildlife resources.
There are several wildlife research opportunities for travellers intending to visit Uganda. Research programs such as Uganda large carnivore program, experiential lion and mongoose tracking, hippo census and bird counts are ways you can support and to keep things moving.
One of the latest wildlife research expeditions is investigating threats to chimpanzees available in Budongo Forest Reserve, home to about 700 chimpanzees. This tour takes you through Uganda’s wildlife conservation efforts at various institutions such as the Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC), in Entebbe.
From educational lectures to field observations and up-close encounters with chimpanzees in their natural habitat. Recent research and information available by the Royal Zoological Society working in partnership with Uganda’s leading scientists is exploring how climate change can affect tropical tree fruiting seasons. Apparently, fruit production might be declining which makes chimpanzees and primates wander and raid local community farms near Budongo Forest Reserve.
Efforts to ensure human wildlife coexistence in Uganda are led by scientific research while engaging local communities. There are experiential wildlife activities to choose from, besides, you can explore bee-hive as a tool to generate revenue whilst stopping elephants from raiding people’s crops.
Local community tourism
UWA shares about 20% of park annual revenues with villages on the park border. The main purpose of the funds on household level is to improve the livelihoods of people through community tourism projects including beekeeping, agrotourism, goat keeping, piggery and cultivation of tea, garlic and tea. On a community level, wildlife revenue helps to fund health care and clean water and improve infrastructure. Many people are able to benefit from tourism and therefore appreciate the value of conservation.
Poaching elephants is caused by the high demand for ivory. Internationally, elephant conservation programs focus on reducing illegal wildlife crime and ivory trade. However, the protection of their habitats seems to be crucial given that elephants can cross into the local farms to raid crops and destroy property. The Wildlife Conservation of Society (WCS) estimates that there are over 5000 elephants in Uganda and has identified potential human elephant conflict zones.
There are several interventions including construction of electric fences. It is thought to cost over $6000 (22 million Ush) but it’s more effective than the traditional ways of digging trenches, bee hives and planting of thorns. In Murchison falls, UWA has erected a 30 km fence in Nwoya district and intends to extend further for 100 km into Oyam district. The electric fence covers 58 km in villages of Muhokya and Kyenzaza in Rubirizi district Queen Elizabeth National Park.