Forest encroachment fueling in Human –wildlife conflicts in Masindi
KAMPALA, Uganda- Budongo Forest in Masindi district is of the largest natural forest in Uganda, its cover is about 793sq km of which 53% is a forest and the other area is grassland.
This forest reserve is home to different wildlife species including over 359 bird species, 465 species of trees, 9 primate species which makes it one of the best tourism sites in the country.
According to statistics available at the Uganda Lodges, the company which manages, Eco Tourism in Budongo Forest at Kaniyo Pabidi Eco tourism site, there are over 500 visitors who visit Budongo Forest for chimp tracking, out of these, 45% of the visitors are locals and the 55% international tourists.
The forest and other forest reserves annexed to it have been vital in the area of research especially in the field of forest’s and being source for medicinal plants,
However, such usages is under threat as some parts of the forest reserves will be no more due to massive encroachment on Budongo forest by investors seeking land for sugar cane planting.
Communities staying near the forest reserves told Journalists that the massive encroachment on the forest reserve especially Kasoha and Rwebitela forest reserves in Budongo Sub county in Masindi district, is fueling human to wild life conflicts because the forests used as habitants for wild animals such as chimps have been taken over for human activity such as sugarcane planting.
Baguma Moses from Kasongoire Village in Kasongoire parish, Budongo sub country in Masindi district said Chimps on many occasion have destroyed their food crops, have attacked their children when they go to fetch water from the water sources near their habitants.
“As communities we are paying the prices for the encroachers by (Kinyara sugar works) who cleared the 40 Kilometer Rwebitela forest reserve for Sugarcane farming. The forest used to be a strong habitant for chimps where they could sleep and also get their food but since the forest was encroached on, chimps are now looking for new habitants where they can stay safely” He explained.
The forest reserve was leased to Kinyara sugar works by the government to grow sugarcane mainly used as a raw material for sugar production.
Baguma said due to human-wildlife conflicts, access to water is becoming a big challenge because communities fear to go to collect water from the water springs for fear of being attacked by the chimps, those who persevere to go for water are escorted by men to provide security especially Women and children who are vulnerable to chimpsee attacks.
It’s on this Back ground that International Conservation Organization is partnering with the communities neighboring forest reserves that are habituating chimps to equip them with Skills on how to core exists with the chimps as mechanisms to reduces the conflicts between the animals and the human beings.
Robert Atugonza the Natural Recourses and Livelihood Officer at the Jane Goodall Institute an organization championing the conservation of chimpanzees in Bunyoro region told Journalists that the human population has been in conflict with the chimps for years, but a lot is being done to better the relationship.
Among the interventions done by the institute is training of communities on the importance of natural resources conservation and majority have adopted skills on how to co exists with chimps.
“Before we came to Masindi, the incidences of human to animal conflicts were high because the communities used to kills the chimps as way of defending themselves from the wild animals; the animals also reacted by attacking communities “Atugonza said.
He added that the institute has also supported the communities to come up with income generating activities such as piggery, goat rearing, apiculture which has reduced the conflicts between the Chimps and the Humans.
“We have supported these communities to come up with money generating activities in order to reduces over depending on the natural forests where they go to collect fire wood , harvest timber for money and collect water for domestic use because that is how the conflicts emanates between the Chimps and Humans” He added.
Jane Goodall Institute has also supported the communities especially the school going children to construct for them a primary school out of the forest. In order to reduce the incidence of pupils contact with the Chimps, Jane Goodall Institute relocated the Budongo Saw Mills Primary school from the forest where the chimps used to attack the pupils to new premises Kilometers away from the Forest.
Jane goodall Institute in partnership with other organizations drilled borehole in the village to prevent locals from looking for water in the woodlands and thus avoiding clashes with the chimpanzees for water. Although they drilled a borehole at Kasongoire village, the water source is insufficient because it cannot serve the whole parish thus the need for more water sources to serve the communities.
The affected Communities especially those whose children have been attacked by the Chimps want government through the Uganda Wild Life Authority to relocate the chimps from Kasoha Forest Reserve to Budongo central forest reserves where less human activities are taking place.
“Government should consider relocating the animals to Budongo forests, we are tired of being attacked by the Chimps which also destroy our crops,” Said a resident whose daughter was attacked by a Chimpanzee at the age of four and that up now, the girl can’t talk properly.
The efforts by the writer to get a comment from the Uganda Wild Life Authority was not successful as the number of the Media liaisons officer was not available by press time.