Following the return of peace in Karamoja efforts are underway to make pastoralists, who are settling in the wildlife corridor near Kidepo Valley National Park, to embrace wildlife conservation, writes Gerald Tenywa.
Herbert Banobi, a conservationist, had grown up knowing that cattle not only provide sweet milk, but were also a symbol of wealth.
But when he went to Ilil Ngwesi in Laikipia, Kenya, elders there told him that milk from elephants was sweeter.
He kept wondering how they had got cour - age to milk elephants. b ut they explained that elephants were more paying than cattle since they attract tourists.
This, according to b anobi, had changed the lives of the pastoralists, who can now afford paying fees for their children in private schools and universities. They have also constructed social amenities such health facilities and a hotel, which has brought windfall profits, which they only dreamt of in the past.
Consequently, NGOs and humanitarian organisations, which used to give people hand - outs in Laikipia have folded since pastoralists have turned to harnessing wildlife for their benefit.
A similar intervention is being introduced in Karenga area in Kaabong district, where pastoralists are roaming on the wildlife corridor connecting Kidepo Valley National Park in north-eastern Uganda to Matheniko and Bokora wildlife reserves in Karamoja.
The corridor has since time immemorial been used by large mammals such as elephants and buffaloes as a migratory route from South Sudan via Kidepo to Matheniko and Bokora wildlife reserves.
“Wildlife pays better than cattle,” says Banobi, adding that tourists pay directly to communities for viewing animals on their land and for services such as accommodation in a hotel where they have a stake.
He was speaking to Saturday Vision from Kitgum during the launch of a conservation and sustainable use of the threatened savannah woodland in Kidepo in north-eastern Uganda.
It was noted that conservation is counterpro ductive if it does not address people’s needs. According to Kaddu Sebunya, a representative of the Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Lakipia’s success in managing wildlife for the benefit of the local people is to be replicated at Karenga.
AWF, an NGO that has spear - headed such interventions in Kenya, Tanzania and southern Africa, has teamed up with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to ensure that wildlife delivers communities to prosperity. In return, residents of Karenga will keep the movement patterns of wild animals in protected areas free.
Apart from Karenga, AWF is also rolling out the four-year programme around Lake Mburo National Park and northern parts of Murchison Falls National Park.
Karenga starved of development
Peter Abach, the LC3 chairperson of Karenga, says the area has witnessed decades of battles, pitting pastoralist against each other, in different parts of Karamoja and South Sudan.
Cattle rustling had become the way of life in what could be the remotest and poorest part of the world.
“We have lost property and lives to the rustlers,” says Abach, adding that this has crippled the region, throwing it into a poverty trap, where people earn less than one dollar a day.
“The Government has brought back peace after a protracted disarmament programme and the prospects for development are brighter,” he said.
The main challenge, however, are straying wild animals, such as elephants, which destroy crops such as sorghum.
“The elephants and buffaloes keep disturbing people. They come when we are about to harvest sorghum and eat most of it. They do not eat simsim, but walking through a garden is enough to cause massive destruction,” said Filister Nakiru, a teacher at Karenga Primary School.
She said compensation had not been forth - coming whenever they report to park authorities.
“When an elephant is killed, they will come and arrest people, but when elephants eat crops or injure people, they do not compen sate them.”
What is at stake?
With the return of peace, Karamoja is springing back to life, with the Government and private sector focusing on agriculture and mining.
This, according to Johnson Masereka, the conservation manager for Kidepo, is likely to put wild animals in a more precarious position. Such activities, according to Masereka, are likely to endanger wildlife, if they are not well planned.
Previously, according to Masereka, human population was low and there was a link between South Sudan and Kidepo, through Karenga to Matheniko- Bokora and Pian Upe.
The animals would move through the corridor in search of pastures and water. Unfortunately, protected areas do not have buffer zones, meaning that the moment the animals get out of that area, they land on communal or private land.
The increase in population is decimating the vegetation around protected areas, according to Masereka.
What has the park done?
How do local communities benefit? asks Masereka.
“Kidepo Valley National Park has not been generating money. People could not go there because of insecurity and poor accessibility. But with more visitors, the park is likely to generate more revenue," says Masereka.
According to the Wildlife Act, 20% of the revenue generated from park entrance fees should be shared with the local communities, and is used to fund enterprises like bee-keeping, among others. A bigger share of the money generated from wildlife, according to Sebunya, would go to the local people at Karenga if they had a lodge and attracted only a third of the visitors staying at Apoka Lodge in Kidepo National Park.
Karenga makes land use plan to re-introduce a buffer zone at Karenga com - munal wildlife area, AWF and UWA officials have engaged the communities through meetings to make a land use plan.
“The land use plan will help us to develop activities which are compatible with wildlife,” Abach told Saturday Vision at Kalenga, adding that AWF is helping locals to add value on land and its resources.
According to Abach, after the introduction of the land use plan, ecological studies will be carried out to identify where elephants pass, water catchment areas, mating and breeding grounds in order to educate locals about conservancies, also referred to as wildlife farming in Uganda’s Wildlife Act.
Also, committees comprising of representatives of the youth, the community development officer, sub-county chiefs and the LC3 chairpersons have been formed to represent the parishes of Karenga and Lobulangit, where wildlife is a constant menace to crops.
According to Sebunya, a business assessment will also be undertaken to establish the viable enterprises, how they can be developed and expected revenue.
After this, a partnership could be developed, where communities and a private sector player co-invest. In some cases, the communities can be trained to manage the hotel or lodge facility on their own or lease it out to a private sector player.
“We have done this in several countries and it is a viable way of managing wildlife outside protected areas,” says Sebunya.
He says they hope to make Karenga a setting where wildlife can co-exist with other land use practices, such as agriculture, mining and tourism.