Kampala — Conservationists have raised the red flag over the increase in poaching of elephants in national parks. The move follows statistics released by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) showing that the numbers of elephants killed in parks since the year began have more than tripled. According to UWA, 33 elephants have been killed at Murchison Falls National Game Park in the last seven years, of which 25 have been killed this year.
Mr Louis Onzima, the acting conservation manager Murchison Falls National Park, says poachers always kill elephants, skin them and take their meat and tusks. "We have increased our manpower and set up outposts at different strategic points for UWA rangers to stop animals from crossing to villages," he said. He said they have also employed other methods like digging ditches to stop elephants from leaving park land.
"The biggest worry is that animals are killed inside the parks not outside where they raid people's gardens," he added. He said they are working with police, army and other security agencies in the area to arrest people poaching elephants.
Ms Lilian Nsubuga, the UWA spokesperson, says they are using the 20 per cent revenue from the park shared with communities on digging ditches to stop the animals from leaving the park and investing it in community livelihood projects for people to appreciate conservation.
"Community leaders should assist us in relocating people some metres away from the park," she says. She says UWA is reviewing the Wildlife Act to have more punitive punishments on poachers because available laws are too weak to curb the vice.
An official of Wanglei Village in Packwachi Town Council, Nebbi District, Mr Michael Okumu, says: "Elephants cross from the park to eat up our crops that is causing a serious conflict between UWA and communities leaving near national parks." He says elephants are hunted for their lucrative tusks used for making ornaments and as ingredients for Asia medicines.
Mr Bosco Olok Lugisa of Latoro Village in Nwoya District says people who are were forced in to internally displaced people's camps during the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency, are returning to their villages and settling near game parks , thereby increasing people- animal conflict.
"Latoro community people have a road that separates them from Murchison Falls National Game Park that makes it easy for elephants to cross and feed on their crops," he said.
According to ecologists, elephants love feeding on cassava and maize leaves and can destroy several acres of crops when they raid a village.
A kilogramme of ivory on international market goes for between $1,500 (about Shs3.8 million) $4,000 (about Shs10.2 million) and a pair of tusks from a mature elephant can weigh about 40 kliogrammes.