Elephants, Crops and People (ECP)
ELEPHANT POPULATION AND MOVEMENTS
In 1998 it was not known if Ishasha had a viable elephant population remaining after some of Africa’s most severe poaching. Today, the UCF supported project, ECP, finds the southern Queen Elizabeth National Park elephant population recovering very well, and estimates the numbers within QE to be between 1500 – 2000 depending on the number of elephant movements between adjoining protected areas and countries! There are few elephants over the age of 40, however, there are young everywhere! So the future is looking very bright so long as the adjoining areas to QE can be protected, any future poaching controlled and the elephants stopped from destroying people’s crops.
On one occasion, the ECP team encountered over 700 elephants in one large aggregation! It was an unbelievable sight and one that we desperately tried to encourage the UWA Research and Monitoring Department to record by air! Sadly they didn’t – but it was a wonderful day in Ishasha. Southern QE joins the Parc National des Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo along the Ishasha River. The elephants freely move back and forth. On a weekly basis for three years, the ECP team checked 13 crossing points along the Ishasha River recording if elephants had crossed, how many and in which direction. ECP has shown there to be a 40% increase in the number of elephants entering Uganda as well as a 24% reduction in the number of elephants returning to the DRC. This is a clear indication that elephants are coming to and staying in Uganda to avoid the heavy poaching pressure.
The Ishasha region of Southern QE is bordered to the east by a hard edge of subsistence agriculture. To the south, the Ishasha River forms the international and park borders between the DRC and Uganda. Over the past half century Uganda has compressed wildlife into the government protected areas. With nowhere else to go and with people cultivating right up to the edge of the parks boundaries wildlife and people are now forced to cohabit. Palatable crops now line the borders of the parks attracting the worlds largest land mammal to feast on them. Meanwhile the attraction of free resources of meat, wood and water from within the park attract people in to the park. Throughout QE, a park in which 40,000 people live, with major roads that pass through, the interaction and competition between wildlife and people is rife. It is one in which the negative interaction such as crop raiding, vastly outweighs the positive.
The elephant crop raiding is regrettably rising at extremely alarming levels. Injury and death of man or beast due to negative interaction is a realistic threat and is on the increase. The fact will always remain; wildlife must make economic sense to the people who live around it. We cannot expect them to accept others’ aesthetic pleasures as justification for them not being able to feed their families from the crops they legally planted.
In 18 months, ECP recorded and confirmed 1403 crop raiding incidents along the Ishasha border and not surprisingly the local farmers are now taking to killing elephants in revenge. In 1998 the authorities denied crop raiding; now it is accepted as something that the Community Conservation department of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) will have to budget hard to combat.
Sadly, official reports confirm there to be very high levels of organised bushmeat poaching. In the DRC the Rwandan and various rebel groups are too well armed to be stopped by the few and poorly armed rangers.
HOW IS UCF HELPING?
The ECP research project closed in May 2004 as it had fulfilled its commitment to identify and provide UWA with detailed information about the threats to the elephants of Southern QE in order for them to take the necessary action. However, through UCF, targeted support towards the region is continuing.
UCF is already helping in a number of ways:
- Providing bicycles to rangers across QE aids patrol movements and regularity, provisioning, attendance at meetings and court prosecutions of poachers. They are easily maintained and relatively cheap.
- Supporting Rangers in the PNV with simple but effective equipment including bicycles, water bottles, boots and mosquito nets to reduce the malaria risk
- In 2004, through UWA, employing farmers affected by severe crop raiding to help clear forgotten vehicular tracks to increase access to Ishasha for tourists and rangers alike.
- It is hoped to fuel the UWA grader within Ishasha to ensure the future use of these tracks and aid the coverage and monitoring of many areas struggling with poaching problems.
Alarmingly, within the past month reports of many elephant deaths have come from the Parc National des Virunga. Michael Keigwin commented that
"the Uganda Authorities should expect the elephants to continue to remain within QE until the DRC is secure. Sadly many of the elephants that we have got to recognise are likely to have been killed. UCF is already helping channel support to the region and to assist the brave Game Rangers."
On the 2nd July 2005 another report came of elephant deaths on the DRC side of the Ishasha River. A further ten incidents of elephant deaths have been reported. How many elephants this involves we are not sure. It is certainly one per incident. UCF needs your support. Please give generously. You could also buy your Christmas cards from UCF this year! Your support would be much appreciated. For more information on how to donate Click here.
THE ECP PROJECT
To support the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to conserve elephants in Southern Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda.
To provide UWA with management orientated research information on the ecology of Ishasha's elephants and the present and potential threats to their future.
These provided the backbone to set up the mechanisms for integrating ECP activities with UWA management and allow for the establishment of research efforts at HQ, Protected Area and field levels.
THE RESULTS OF THE PROJECT WERE:
- Elephant population size, structure, group dynamics and reproductive status understood.
- Elephant seasonal distribution, movement and resource requirements better understood.
- Habitat and resource change, in particular resulting from elephant and human impacts monitored and understood
- Location and activities for actual or potential elephant - human interaction or resource competition identified and mapped.
- Community trends, resource requirements and attitudes to QENP better understood.
- Additional expertise harnessed through co-operation and collaboration with other organisations and facilitation of research opportunities.
FURTHER PROJECT DEVELOPMENTS WERE TO:
Promote and facilitate in capacity building and training exercises to ensure the continuance and expansion of ECP monitoring techniques and skills.Kitomi Forest Conservation Project