The farmers told NTV that they incur heavy losses whenever the elephants cross from Queen Elizabeth National Park into their farmlands.
Kabirizi, one of the villages in Lake Katwe sub-county, lies along the Kasese-Bwera road and its residents are mostly farmers. The road is the boundary of the farming community and Queen Elizabeth National Park, which sits on about 765 square miles.
Every evening along the Kasese-Bwera road, farmers stroll back and forth along this road and one cannot easily make out what they are up to until they tell their story. Men, women, children have given up sleep to protect their crops from wildlife – specifically elephants. To keep the elephants away some people have to keep guard at all times hence the constant movement up and down the road
William Marahi has farmed in Kabirizi for 2 years. He grows cotton and maize on his rented hectare. From planting season to harvest, Marahi does not sleep in the night. He has seen elephants, countless times, destroying his and other farmers’ crops.
Sometimes, the farmers are able to chase the elephants back to the park. When they hear them approaching they drum, make bonfires along the roadside, make noise, throw stones and anything else that can scare the elephants back to the park.
Isaac Kule, who lost almost an acre of maize to the elephants in the previous season, is always worried he might lose more of his crop this year. He says the farmers use simple crude methods to scare away the elephants but they have not had much success.
Fire is more effective method of scaring the elephants away than noise but wood is costly; and on a rainy night, it is difficult to light the fire.
The farmers are compelled to carry out nightly patrols but it is impossible to monitor all the spots where elephants cross from the park to farmlands. The nights can be cold and dark and there is always a chance of the elephants attacking but the farmers have no option but to confront them in order to protect their crops to have an income at harvest.
The residents of Kabirizi have called upon the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to help them solve the elephant problem and UWA has responded by experimenting with different solutions that will ensure the farmers’ gardens are kept safe without harming the elephants.
According to Jossy Muhangi, the spokesperson for the wildlife agency, UWA has dug a series of trenches around the areas in the Queen Elizabeth national park where the elephants have been crossing into farmers’ gardens. However, despite digging nearly 100km of trenches, there are still some crossing spots like those around Kabirizi that have not yet been dealt with.
There have also been innovations like solar powered lamps that light up and trigger an alarm once they sense movement. The alarm has been effective in alerting wildlife rangers at nearby UWA post. Sometimes the guards shoot in the air to scare off the elephants.
UWA has also engaged some volunteer guards from the community who alert the game rangers by bowing whistles the moment they spot elephants.
However all these initiatives have had limited success and the farming community near the park need a lasting solution to the elephants that cause huge damage to their crops.