Uganda’s Acholi Paramount Chief Rwot David Onen Acana II has come under severe criticism for threatening to kill elephant which stray from national parks and destroy crops in search of pastures.
The Rwot was quoted in local media to have said: ‘It is very sad that after months of hard work and sweat, elephants come and destroy all the crops. I am writing a letter to President Museveni and the responsible bodies to notify them of my action that will soon start at any time. Acholis never begged for food in the past or went to work on other people’s farms as is the case today. They can’t even afford to support their children in schools or provide family needs since farming as a source of income has been bee affected by elephants’. He then added: ‘We are aware that it is against the law to kill those elephants, but if we are victimized and prosecuted, we will have saved ourselves from hunger’.
The Chief’s outburst, seen as a populist move to gain traction with the Acholi people, drew an immediate response from the Uganda Wildlife Authority whose spokesperson Jossy Muhangi said the utterances were uncalled for and would not solve the problem. He also pointed out that UWA had and continues to dig trenches around critical areas of national parks to keep wildlife populations inside the protected areas and that outposts of rangers were on constant patrols to raise the alert in cases of stray elephant. ‘Instead of killing these animals that are economically benefitting them, residents should engage us and we deploy more wardens and scouts’,
Across East Africa but also in Southern Africa have grown human populations pushed into what formerly were exclusive wildlife corridors and migration routes and at times moved right up to national park boundaries using land to farm which in the old days was seen as too unproductive to sustain regular harvests. Wildlife versus Human conflicts have there flared up time and again, with lions being killed, often by poisoning, when they take down livestock which has displaced regular game populations or in the case of elephants that they are shot or speared.
Most small scale farmers are seen by the conservation community as ignorant to available means to keep elephant away from their crops, such as putting up bee hives or planting chili shrubs along the borders of their fields, something NGO’s are ready to help farming communities with.
Said one close conservation friend: ‘These outbursts to little to help effectively address the human wildlife conflicts. The Chief should use his position to help educate his people, engage with us to seek working solutions. UWA and local NGO’s work hand in hand and international groups have pledged funds to assist farmers. They can use bee hives for instance, which supplement their income, or grow chilies which the elephant do not like, they avoid fields where chillies are grown. The Chief should also remember how many of his people have jobs in the tourism industry in Uganda. The lodges in the parks which his lambasted employ his people, and killing of elephant will have a very negative impact on how Uganda is seen abroad. The Uganda Tourism Board and the private sector are about to stage the next edition of the Pearl of Africa Travel Expo in February and the last thing we need is a Chief gone rogue, calling for elephants to be killed. We need to work together on this issue, not blindly rush into illegal activities for populist sake’.
It is understood that UWA and other authorities will seek to discuss the situation with the Chief in coming days to avoid an escalation.