Every year at least three people are killed in Queen Elizabeth National Park, according to local authorities around the park.
Uganda Wildlife Authority spokesperson, Jossy Muhangi, says locals always enter the game park with guns and if they see game rangers first, they shoot at them which makes it difficult for the latter to also avoid shooting on sight.
This sour relationship has birthed a twinning project between Queen Elizabeth Country Park in Hampshire, UK, and Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda aimed at reviving harmony between communities and rangers to promote local tourism and environment conservation.
The national coordinator of Queen Elizabeth Park twinning project Yowasi Byaruhanga told Daily Monitor newspaper that the project started 10 years ago when rangers Charles Etoru from Queen Elizabeth National Park and Steve Peach from Queen Elizabeth Country Park, UK, met at an International Ranger Federation Congress in Kruger National Park, South Africa.
The rangers discovered that they were both representing Queen Elizabeth Parks and a friendship developed.
The twinning project aims at supporting local communities through education initiatives that teach communities around the parks the importance of conserving the environment and also develop children talents.
The talent development annual event increases community awareness on how to conserve the environment and wildlife which must change the relationship between the park and the local community.
Peach, the project leader and co-founder, highlighted that schools are the most viable ways through which communities can be easily engaged as most children are able to inform their parents on the best way of conserving the environment.
The project started a Rugby conservation tournament involving seven schools around Queen Elizabeth National Park. This brings the community around the part and park staff together.
‘’Both parks share the same issues and concerns, such as how to look after wildlife and the environment while making sure local communities feel part of that process,’’ Peach said.
Schools that participated in the recent tournament included Kafuro Primary School, Kicwamba Primary School, St. Jones Primary School, Kyambura Primary School, Good Hope Primary School, Katunguru Primary School and Kyenzanza Primary School. St. Jones Primary School won the tournament.
“Pupils in schools around the game park are not aware of the wildlife around them since it is expensive for them to get into the park. There is a need for Uganda Wildlife Authority to subsidise entry fees for pupils and other communities around the park so that people get to feel as part of the park,” said Byaruhanga.
He added: “If we work together, people will appreciate the national park in a good way.”
However, Kyambura Primary School head teacher, Hope Musimenta, revealed that the game park has affected enrollment of pupils as most of them prefer to roast gonja (plantain), meat, maize, cassava which they sell to tourists around the game park.
The rate of absenteeism and dropout in the school is therefore very high.
According to the school’s records, in 2010 Kyambura Primary School enrolled 72 pupils in Primary One, but in 2016, the school has only one pupil in Primary Seven who was in the class of 2010.
Forty seven either dropped out or changed to other schools, nine repeated classes and the whereabouts of 16 are not known to the school.
“There is a lot of abject poverty in the area because of animals invade people’s gardens and destroy them leaving them with nothing to either eat or sell making most parents think they cannot take their children to school thus allowing them to take part in the roadside trade since there are many tourists in the area,” Musimenta said.
She believes that if the conservation cup and other activities are brought on board, this may encourage many pupils to attend school since most of them are talented in extracurricular activities.
Residents around Queen Elizabeth National Park, blame the government for failing to stop animals such as elephants from invading their gardens which has caused them poverty.
“In this area we are farmers but animals from Queen Elizabeth National Park such as baboons and elephants destroy our plantations. Over the years, government has been promising us to stop them from invading our plantations but in vain,’’ said Night Mwamin, a 50-year-old resident in Kyambura, Kicwamba Sub-county, Bunyaruguru County.
About the project
The Queen Elizabeth Parks Twinning Project is a Community Conservation Project that works in 3 key areas, with Schools, the Local Community and Park Staff. The Project supports ‘twinning’ and cultural exchanges between schools that share a close proximity to the Queen Elizabeth Parks.
The Project also encourages its twinned Schools to get involved in Conservation and Environmental Sustainability Projects. Through engaging with and empowering local communities the Twinning Project hopes to encourage more people to see the value in the conservation of wildlife and the local environment.
A key part of the project is involvement and mutual support of the Rangers and other staff who protect both Queen Elizabeth Parks. It is their participation that makes this such a special project.
Source/ Daily Monitor