By Catherine Nambi and Akugizibwe Peter Arali
The ever-changing land use patterns have seen a number of people in Uganda’s Western District of Rubiriizi cultivating near the boundaries of Queen Elizabeth National Park.
These crops attract elephants that usually cross from the park to the gardens making the area a hotspot for human-elephant conflicts.
Muireli Erious has a cassava garden in Kataara III village at the boundary of the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Rubirizi District says methods such as digging trenches to prevent elephants from crossing to the gardens as well as banging of jerrycans and using whistles and vuvuzelas to scare the elephants away have not yielded much.
The locals are now turning to the use of bee hive fencing around the park to deter the elephants.
Kataara Women’s Poverty Alleviation Group operating in Kataara I village Kichwamba Sub County is spearheading the erection of the bee hives at the park boundary in Rubirizi district.
Tumwebaze Immaculate is the group chairperson. Leticia Nayebare another member of the Kataara women’s group attests that indeed the bee hives are instrumental in chasing away elephants from their gardens.
Birungi Mwanje the Local Council One Chairperson Kataara 1 Village, says that indeed people in her area can now catch some sleep in their houses instead of sleeping in the gardens watching out for the elephants.
Rubirizi District Senior Entomologist Geofrey Muhindo says the beekeepers have been trained on how best to do their apiary around the park.
He says many have embraced apiary because in addition to reducing human-elephant conflicts, it has also improved the livelihood of the community members who sell honey and other bee products.
Beekeeper Nayebare explains how she is using money from selling bee products to get basic needs.
Uganda Wildlife Authority Warden in Charge of Kyambura Wildlife Reserve Captain John Tugume says the community was given a ten-kilometre stretch for the erection of a bee hive fence around the park.
He says the kilometres covered so far although a small fraction of what is required, have shown that bee hive fencing is an effective method of preventing human-elephant conflicts
The beekeepers have only covered about 3kms.
The project implemented under the guidance of UWA is funded by a number of development partners among them the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Uganda.
Paul Mulondo the Forests and Biodiversity Program Officer at WWF Uganda says beekeeping has been a very successful method in reducing human-wildlife conflicts in a number of countries in Africa and beyond. He notes the method is also proving effective in Uganda.
According to yet-to-be-published research, crop damage is at 1.7% in areas with apiary while in areas without apiary, it stands at 98.3%.
The same research also indicates 0% livestock predation in areas with apiary and 100% livestock predation in areas without apiary.
The group coordinator Kataara women poverty alleviation group Moses Agaba is however worried about sustainability when donor funding winds up.
He calls upon the government to take an interest in funding the project
Rubirizi Natural Resources Officer Ritah Murungi is optimistic that human-elephant conflicts will be a myth in the district if the entire 10km stretch of the park boundary is covered.
In their research work Nelleman et al, (2002) and Kusena, (2009) predict that, more than 90% of African elephant’s habitats are likely to suffer moderate to high impact from human activities by 2030.