By Alex Keillah Taremwa
Before I let the cat out of the bag, allow me give an insight of the wildlife area from where I draw my argument. Katonga Wildlife Reserve is a wildlife reserve in western Uganda, along the banks of River Katonga. The Reserve was established in 1998. It measures approximately 211 square kilometres (81 sq mi). Many of the species of plants and animals in the reserve are unique to the reserve’s wetland environment. The wildlife reserve is named after Katonga River, which flows from Lake Victoria in the east to Lake George in the west. located in the districts of Ibanda and Kamwenge in western Uganda, along the banks of the Katonga River. In kamwenge, it borders with Biguli subcounty and part of Mpara subcounty in Kyenjojo district. The location is approximately 200 kilometres (120 mi), by road, west of Kampala, Uganda‘s capital city. The coordinates of the wildlife reserve are:00 02N, 30 25E.
Last week something strange happened, 2 buffaloes from this area got out of sight of the game rangers for 72 hours. In all these days, these animals just like the rest of them had been invading the farms and plantations of the neighbouring largely agrarian aristocrats who are largely comprised of Bahima, Bakiga and Banyankole, Batoro and Banyoro people. After 3 days of massive damages of not only their Potato among other subsistence that had consistently been affected by hailstorms in the Government’s watch but also public outcry for help but with no success, the desperate and hopeless mob decided to arm themselves with spears and other peasantry arms to hunt the innocent animals down and killed them. They not only killed them but these largely poor, desperate and uneducated majorities went ahead to slaughter and eat them too claiming they were tired of the constant attack of these always on rampage animals. Later in about 3 hours, a Wildlife Authority Van appeared transporting armed game rangers who claimed to have been on the search for these animals but couldn’t locate them or alternatively track them down.
The mob reaction:
On seeing these people, a considerate number of the mob scattered but the few brave ones stayed to discuss the possible solutions and present their grievances to these people. To notice, not only had the animals destroyed the gardens of these people once but this was almost the 7th and the most destructive time since the animals left at least 4 people bed ridden and one of them without the right ear. After minutes of tentative listening, a UWA officer whose name I won’t mention for purposes of anonymity remarked ” If you hadn’t these animals, you’d be stupid”. This made me develop a metality to launch an inquiry into the possible causes of the constant animal invasion on the people’s property even when they’ve square km of virgin lands.
Corruption: First, there are high levels of corruption and bribery amongst the game officials. Since the area is generally surrounded by largely Bahima Aristocrats who posses large numbers of cattle herds, they seemingly run out of pasture so soon and they resort to grazing the pastures of the Game reserve through possible bribing of the Game officials who give them an minimum access to the game. So due to constant times of unauthorized invasion the animals move all across the firm finding comfortable areas thus ending up in out of the designated areas.
Encroachment on the forests: The security of the game has become so versatile that even people enjoy a comfortable encroachment on the forests of the reserve possibly for firewood meant for subsistence and commercial consumption. Given the facts the these settlers are largely uneducated, they don’t understand the fact that the forests are natural habitats for some living things and it’s the same living animals that in turn revenge on these people’s crops and gardens
Craftsmanship: A given portion of the settlers have the art of crafts and provided that River Katonga on which the boundaries of the Game park are built is largely a papyrus rich vegetative area and papyrus are a primary raw material in the make of mats, baskets and other home and market hand made items, people invade the area for raw materials of their artistic works something the less know about that violates the law. In their ignorance of the law, they cost the government precious species of specific animal breeds and hence sums of money through tourism.
Given the basis of my argument, this the best reason that the Government should blend right in and possibly make the following changes.
Mass education: these people need to realise the benefits the benefits of having such a natural resource in their reach. River Katonga not only provides food to these people through illegal fishing, it also is a nearer access of free waters to the pastorals when prolonged drought hits.
The population need to learn that illegal encroachment on such a public resource for petty benefits such as raw materials and food cost the Government chunks of money through loss of precious animal and bird species and is against the law.
It should proceed to arrest the people involved in poaching and other illegal related activities so that they could be the examples to the rest of the ones who initially intended to get involved in the same.
Immediate rapid responses should be set to respond to possible public outcries when always invaded and are in attack of these mostly wild and hostile animals whose only language the understand is the gun.
To sum it all up, I have to admit that our precious wildlife in not only Katonga wildlife reserve but other areas of holding is deteriorating following reports from Murchision Falls and Kidepo. If the people responsible don’t consider such as emergencies, we will lose even the little were holding.