MORE ATTACKS ON UWA RANGERS AT MT. ELGON
Mt. Elgon National Park remains a hot spot for conservation and the staff of Uganda Wildlife Authority are putting their life on the line day in day out, as the latest news from the East of the country confirm. One ranger was seriously injured in an attack by suspected encroachers and poachers, who set on him with pangas and spears while also using dogs to attack and chase away the game rangers.
Mt. Elgon is regularly in the news, sadly so, and as a result suffering as a tourism destination, when stories break over encroachment, fights, devastating and deadly landslides, which tend to scare tourists away. Said a source in UWA: ‘this is our biggest problem park we have in the country. We have often made representation to government about the issues, but the incitement by politicians continues. They promise people land to resettle them inside the park. The park boundaries were reviewed a few years ago after a long consultative process and then demarcated. But encroachers in league with criminals and poachers keep removing the boundary posts and markers and when we try to chase them out of the park they run to politicians for help and claim it was their land. Poaching is another big problem there, and so is illegal logging of tropical trees. Encroachers also do not know the dangers of cultivating on steep slopes and during heavy rains which are common on this mountain landslides can just swallow up a whole village. This happened last year, then government was quick to evict people from those parts of the park but they keep coming back. This is a battle conservation cannot win without political support. Mt. Elgon is a crucial water tower for the East of the country. Deforestation and illegal logging spoils it and then, during dry season times, the water in the streams dries up and everyone comes running ‘why why’ but the truth is, they were told time and again that what UWA does in the park is for the good of everyone. It is also a transboundary park we share with Kenya and therefore has good tourist potential. But everytime such news come to the media we are losing out on visitors. Once a Belgian tourist was killed there and it finished tourism almost completely that year. As long as gangs of poachers are free to roam because they have political godfathers protecting them, what can we do’.
UWA’s main motto speaks of conservation for generations but in the case of this park the question must be asked here where government stands on this issue and what, if any effect on policing boundaries and managing the park the recent upheavals at UWA had on their capability to robustly carry out their mandate.
Watch this space.