More than 1 000 homesteads have had their crops destroyed after hundreds of elephants and other wild animals from Uganda’s largest national game reserve, Murchison Falls National Park, broke out of their habitat.
Apart from the invading elephants, other animals including buffaloes, giraffes and lions have also become are also a threat to the nearby homesteads.
Tullow oil’s recent exploration in the area has been blamed for the crisis.
Patrick Oryema, chairman of Nwoya District, where part of the park is located, lamented the state of affairs in his district, where he said people have nothing to eat after the elephants from the park destroyed hundreds of acres of farmlands.
“Hundreds of acres of food are eaten by elephants every day,” he said, with the most affected crops being rice, cassava and sorghum.
“A mature elephant can eat up to 300 kilogrammes of food per day,” he added to emphasise the scope of destruction.
Locals claim that noise made by heavy machinery and strong night lights is disturbing the park’s ecosystem.
The Nwoya district leader has threatened to mobilise his people for a demonstration in the capital if the situation does not improve soon.
“I will transport them to Kampala to demonstrate before parliament.” he said. But a government representative in the affected area, Semei Okwi, says the animals will soon get used to the noise.
“The elephants are intelligent animals. Soon they will know that the noise is not dangerous. They will get used to the noise and stop running away,” he said.
He refuted allegations that oil drilling is responsible for animals moving to villages arguing that invasions by animals preceded oil exploration.
Amid complaints that oil drilling activities by Tullow Oil Company is destabilizing the animals and scaring them out of the park, a rather unorthodox solution has been suggested by officials.
Executive director of Uganda Wildlife Authority, Andrew Seguya confirmed that trenches were being dug around the game park to stop elephants and other animals from leaving the park and encroaching on neighbouring villages.
The park, Africa’s seventh largest in size and visitation accounts for some 1400 elephants, thousands of buffaloes, about 200 lions and many other wild animals.
Last year 60,000 tourists visited the park.