In an effort to involve communities in solving human-wildlife conflict (HWC) around Murchison Falls Protected Area (MFPA), the USAID/Uganda Tourism for Biodiversity Program, implemented by African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), has invested US$11,000 in partnership with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to develop a Community Wildlife Scouts program, including providing equipment worth over $2,800. The equipment, which includes garden gloves, buckets, nose-masks, vuvuzella, bells, whistles, hoes, pick axes, spades, gumboots, raincoats, torches, and water bottles, was handed over to 122 wildlife scouts, most of whom are youth, who underwent a two day training in problem animal management with an emphasis on elephants. The handover ceremony took place in Ayago – Koch Goma Sub-county, at the boundary of Murchison Falls National Park and was presided over by Mr. Kaddu Sebunya, Director AWF Uganda Program, and Mr. Tom Okello, Conservation Area Manager of Murchison Falls National Park.
While addressing the scouts, Mr. Okello thanked community members for their role in wildlife conservation and singled out George Okeny, the scouts' leader, who gave UWA a portion of his land in 2008 to construct a ranger post to address wildlife raids, which were frequent in Ayago. He also applauded AWF's partnership, especially in training and equipping the scouts. Mr. Sebunya emphasized that AWF's support to the community was due to their commendable conservation work with UWA. He said that AWF and UWA are modeling such efforts to be replicated all over the country. The scouts expressed their appreciation for the support and stressed the need to address transport challenges and start income generating projects for the group. The group has already dug a 32-kilometer long elephant trench to prevent elephant raids.
The Community Wildlife Scouts (CWS) program was started by UWA as part of their strategy to expand various human wildlife conflict mitigations. Community representatives and volunteer youths/scouts were mobilized to chase away invading elephants from community gardens through simple, inexpensive methods including increased vigilance, beating tins and drums, blowing whistles and vuvuzela, application of pepper, setting fires, and applying other traditional methods in an organized manner. These methods have helped in controlling crop raids in the areas where they are implemented.
The community carries scars of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) conflict, which were still evident in Ayago Sub-county after peace returned to the area. When the community returned to their homes after the conflict ended, they found that the warlords had extensively poached wildlife in the park. For example, in the Ayago River, only two hippos remained; but with community's protection, the population has grown to over 23 hippos. The scouts have also helped UWA to reduce the need for ranger presence and patrol. In 2008, UWA stationed 14 rangers in the area; but with less acute human wildlife conflict, this has been reduced to three rangers, which saves the UWA approximately 15 million Ugandan shillings annually on operational costs, food rations, transport, patrol and supervision.
Crop raiding by elephants is currently the major cause of human-wildlife conflict due to increasing human population and the growing numbers of settlements close to protected areas that were "off limits" during the LRA insurgency. With the current rate of settlement and the growing demand for access to land, it is clear that while human wildlife conflicts around the Murchison Falls Protected Area are still growing, involving communities through programs such as this will go a long way in providing a sustainable solution. The equipment that the Tourism for Biodiversity project provided will undoubtedly increase the scouts' motivation and help them to achieve their goal of reducing human-wildlife conflict in the Ayago – Koch Goma Sub-county area.
Left: Scouts demonstrate how they apply pepper mixture at the park boundary to scare away elephants from raiding community crops. Middle: Scouts show how elephant deterrents are applied.
Right: George Okeny, the scouts' leader, addressing UWA and AWF officials.