By Abalo Irene Otto
Its 7:45am, a cold breeze from the Nile lingers as we approach the route to Paraa Safari Lodge. About three elephants flap their wide ears and raise their trunks up as they graze together, 6 meters away from the entrance to Paraa in Murchison Falls National Park.
A ten minutes ride from Pakwach town through the bridge to a bumpy rocky ride gets one to the immediate wildlife view at the gate where domestic tourists pay Shs15,000 to gain access, a rate expected to increase to Shs20,000 by January 2018 according to Uganda Wild Life Authority.
20% of these gate collections go to the local community as revenue sharing fund to help in compensation when wild animals destroy their crops.
On such a sunny Thursday morning, the animals seem at peace as they graze at liberty near humans employed to protect them except for the wild cats that are hardly visible as one enters the park. They are herbivorous and once one has fed on a human, it can finish a whole community because it would not want to eat anything else, according to Sgt Muranzi Kwezi, the tour guide.
The elephants, Giraffes, Kobs and Hippos seem to have a better part of the 3,800 square Kilo metre park, the largest among the ten parks in the country.
Eric Enyel, the Senior Warden Murchison Falls National Park, says an Ariel census carried out three years ago put the number of elephants at 5,900 in the country; 2,300 of which are at Murchison Falls.
By 1986, there were about 2,000 elephants only in the park due to the insurgency in Northern Uganda but the number has since increased due to migration from other countries and natural factors.
According to Enyel, elephants have a natural instinct that directs them to a particular route as they migrate. He adds that the animal human conflict experienced in the communities especially around Nwoya is because their natural routes have been tempered thereby hindering their usual migration.
Largest mammal on earth
The Elephant is one of the largest mammals on earth. It is among the most intelligent of the creatures with whom we share the planet, with complex consciousness that are capable of strong emotions. Weighing between 400-500kgs and standing up to about 5.5metres tall with a lifespan of about 25years.
An elephant eats about 300kgs of leaves and trees per day and drinks about 60litres of water per day; a reason they are a danger to the farmers in the vicinity they can reach.
But Andrew Seguya, the executive director Uganda Wild Life Authority believes that if the elephants are confined in one national park as some people think, it will have a genetic effect.
“It is not the nature of animals to be confined in national parks but because we want people to also coexist with the animals, we do so. We only try to control them but you cannot maintain them in the parks all the time.” Says Seguya.
Respecting Migratory corridors
He adds that if the animal human conflict is to cease, people have to respect the migratory corridors of animals like elephants.
“We have challenges when animals get into gardens and frustrate people. It is only proper if people maintain the migration corridors and not settle or grow crops in them. The elephants have used the migratory corridors for centuries and you cannot begin to change their minds today.” Seguya explains.
Recently, Uganda Wild Life Authority spent about Shs2.5 to compensate communities affected by the wild animals.
Seguya says UWA has tried several interventions to curb the animal-human conflict but the trend continues since the elephants are clever animals and keep finding their way.
“We have used a trench to cover the whole of Nwoya up to Kololo in Amuru but the elephants are clever, they follow up to the tarmac because we could not dig the trench to destroy that road.”
He encourages the locals to continue growing pepper to deter elephants but also benefit from it as an economically viable crop. A kilogram of pepper costs between Shs15,000 to Shs20,000 in the domestic market.
While launching the Tulambule, promoting local tourism drive in Uganda at the Hippo pool at Murchison Falls National Park recently, Godfrey Kiwanda Ssuubi, the minister of state, Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities urged the locals to use their diverse culture to attract tourists who come to visit the park.
“Tulambule is to get more local people inside the park but we are telling Ugandans that you have this heritage to develop. See how you can use them to do business. Make crafts and sell to the tourists to improve your livelihoods.”
He adds that, “You can do trade within legal means in wildlife products. Like farming Crocodiles is allowed if you use the right channel and tourists love such as well.”
By 2020, Uganda aims to attract more than 4million visitors every year a target they hope will boost local tourism.
Currently, about 1.5million tourists visit national parks in Uganda accounting for 1% of the sector’s contribution to the national Gross Domestic Product.