Ntoroko — Court in Ntoroko District has sentenced four cattle keepers for illegally grazing more than 600 cows in Tooro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve.
Mr Ephraim Bamaraki, Mr Keith Agaba (chairperson of Public Accounts Committee of Ntoroko), Mr Nathan Mwesige and Ms Sylvia Kagole on Monday appeared before Magistrate Latif Nakibinge and were sentenced to a fine of Shs500,000 each.
This is after they were convicted of illegal entry into a protected area, unlawful introduction of domestic animals into wildlife, disturbance of wildlife plants and unlawful possession of dangerous devices capable of injuring or disturbing wild animals all contrary to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Act, 2000.
UWA officials last week found cows grazing at Ndorwa and Kachwankumu, all areas inside the reserve and the owners were taken to police.
All protected areas are a reserve of wildlife (fauna and flora) and no domestic animal should be grazed in them according to the UWA Act, 2000.
The seized cows were then kept in a kraal inside the reserve until court ordered their release.
However, Mr Bamaraki was fined Shs4 million for grazing the cows for more than a week.
"Since the accused are all first time offenders, this court finds that they were guilty of the offences and are sentenced to a fine of Shs500,000 each," court ruled.
The warden-in-charge of the reserve, Mr Benon Mugyerwa, told Daily Monitor that their main challenge is people grazing in protected areas such as Tooro-Semliki and Katonga Wildlife Reserve in Ntoroko and Kyegegwa districts.
Last week, Mr Deusdedit Twinomugisha, the assistant warden of Community Conservation at Tooro Semliki-Wildlife Reserve, said illegal grazing is caused by land pressure in these areas.
"There is land pressure in Ntoroko District, people mainly the Batuku, culturally hold thousands of cows as a pride and don't have enough land to graze them and the water bodies of Lake Albert and River Semliki are more than 30 kilometres away from Rwebisngo and Butungama so they end up entering the reserve for pasture and water at River Wasa and its tributaries" Mr Twinomugisha said.
As a result, he said the cattle keepers have killed all the lions in the reserve because they eat their cows.
He said the reserve receives between 500 to 700 tourists each year. He said: "Grazing cows in the reserve has more diverse impact such as transmission of diseases to the wildlife and vice versa."