Last Updated on: 21st October 2023, 03:06 pm
Moyo I As Ugandans stormed various Independence grounds last week to celebrate Uganda’s 61st Anniversary, in the North West Nile sub-region in Madi, it was a different scenario.
On the eve of the Anniversary, more than forty domestic tourists from all over Uganda while others from South Sudan spent the entire day trekking over 4 Kilometers to the top of mountain Otce in Moyo district.
The district is surrounded by Rivers, Mountains and interestingly all the top three highest mountains found in West Nile namely Abutze the highest at 1,574 meters above sea level, Mountain Otce, 1,563 meters above sea level and Illo third highest, are all situated in Moyo district whereas the fourth highest Mt. Waati is located on the border between Terego and Maracha districts.
Today, many domestic tourists within the region use these Mountains to connect with nature and have the opportunity to experience the comical views of the beautiful scenery they are located in.
Mountain Otce in particular, provides the stunning view of the Albert Nile as it stretches from Uganda into South Sudan via Nimule Park before its name changes to the White Nile.
The mountain is also blessed with Forest Reserves named after “Mt. Otce Forest Reserves.”
The wooded and savanna bush, including the undergrowth, provide a perfect habitat to over 168 bird species of which 14 are migratory birds from South Sudan, 50 wild animals and more than 162 tree species.
At the top of the mountain, you can view Jebel Gordon from South Sudan, also very clear is Fulla Falls and the elephant migratory corridor.
However, many of the Wildlife species are now on the verge of extinction due to illegal hunting and Poaching. Some of the illegal activities carried out inside Mt. Otce Game Reserves include farming, Charcoal burning, and logging. The hunted animals include Uganda Kobs, Dick-dick, Antelopes, Fly squirrels, warthog, and wild rats, among others.
Apart from hunting inside Mt. Otce, other hunting areas include the hills of Erei on the border between Obongi and Moyo districts, the Hills of Metu, all gazetted areas by National Forestry Authority and around bushes of Wano village in the border of Uganda with South Sudan.
According to the 2022 records, a total of 814,508 tourists visited Uganda, which is a 59% rise over 2021’s total of 512,945 visitors. Even though this shows growth in the industry’s post-pandemic recovery, the performance is only 53% of the arrivals in 2019.
To farmers and other residents in Moyo district like Taluga, a resident of Otce sub-county, he does not know the value this forest and resources bring to the community and he said many of the wild animals such as monkeys, baboons and other wild rodents are destructive to agricultural produce.
Taluga who is also a hunter narrated that he hunts these wild animals using local traps, and stones placed along their paths or by digging deep holes and adding row cassava that helps attract the animals to feed on them, eventually in the process, the animals end up being trapped.
Many of the farmers after hunting either sell the meat or it is consumed by the family members. To them, they call it a balanced diet, citing cow or goat’s beef as expensive for rural persons to afford.
In Moyo district, particularly in the rural areas, smoked front legs of antelope or Uganda Kob ranges from shs18,000-20,000 (4-5 Dollars) compared to a kilo of cow or goat’s meat which is sold between shs13,000-15,000 (2-3 Dollars).
Taluga said many locals prefer wild meat over others because of the taste, high nutritional contents and is readily available despite being expensive. He added that the money they get from the sale of the wildlife animal’s meat is used for paying school fees.
Despite the Uganda Wildlife Act of 2019 stating that any person who, without a permit takes, hunts, molests or reduces into possession a protected specimen or is found with, sells, buys, transfers or accepts the transfer of a protected specimen, commits an offence and shall on conviction, be liable to a maximum fine of shs200 million or a jail term or both, this Law has landed on deaf ears in Moyo district.
The Act also gives the Court powers to fine a first-time offender, shs7 million or to a term of imprisonment, not exceeding 10 years, or both. Second-time or subsequent offenders are required to pay a fine of shs10 million or serve a maximum jail term of 20 years, or both.
The punishment for the use of weapons, traps, and explosives is shs100 million in fines or 10 years imprisonment, or both. This also applies to persons who unlawfully prepare land for cultivation, and mining or those who take, destroy, damage or deface any object of geomorphological, archaeological, historical, cultural or scientific value.
In Moyo district, the Law only exist on paper since it has never been implemented as Dawa and her colleague Margret not their exact names and restaurant owners in town stated that every day government officials from the district and NGOs including those who are supposed to implement the Laws flock their restaurants daily for the delicious meat served from Wild animals.
In my conversation with both of them, they seemed to be unaware of the importance of these wild animals as tourist attractions because of the nature of the questions they posed to me. “How do these wild animals help us?” “It attracts tourists, creates employment and helps in the development of roads,” I told them.
“Sorry! I (We) don’t know those things,” Margret asked me, “What about our crops which they (Wild animals) are destroying, should we keep watching them? Who will compensate us?” I asked if she and some of her suppliers have ever reported the issue but her response was “NO.”
Dawa said the common types of meat she buys, including her friends, are from Antelopes, warthog (Bush pigs) and other wild animals, but she said that she, together with the suppliers operates on the phone because of the illegality of the business.
Sometimes the hunters move at night, use shortcuts or sometimes illegally enter border points for fear of being arrested by game rangers.
Eriku Luigi Amos, a resident of Paecoa Logo village, Otce sub-county in Moyo district recounted that if the trend persisted, the next generation of children would not be able to see certain types of animal species.
Apart from being destructive to farmland, Luigi said he sees no reason for the communities to hunt them because many of them are less dangerous compared to elephants.
He added that some of the farmers have established traps around their farmlands to scare away wild animals from destroying their crops. However, there are a certain group of hunters and farmers who go into the Mountains to hunt for the animals as a source of income generation, a vice commonly practised during the dry season compared to the rainy season.
He also noted some of the animals are hunted for cultural reasons where the hides are used for dressing drums, spears, garden tools and others tied on the waist, and horns from certain wild animals are used during performances of traditional dances, something which is destructive, according to Luigi.
Also the continuous hunting and human interference, Luigi said have negatively contributed to a reduction in certain animals and have forced others to migrate to far distances because of human interference.
“A single piece of wild bush rat goes at shs8, 000 (2 Dollars). So, sometimes when you go hunting, you can come back home with 7-8 pieces amounting to shs35,000-40,000 (7-10 Dollars. But because of frequent hunting, these animals have been depleted. Sometimes you can move the whole day or a week without catching,” recounted Luigi.
Now, Luigi is saying that instead of killing and selling the meat, locals should desist from the attitude of illegally killing wild animals so that they can act as tourist attractions and offer research centres because of the different tree species. He also called on Moyo District Local Government to gazette Mt. Otce, Dufile Park, and Erei Forest Reserves to minimize access by illegal hunters poachers and farmers.
According to Alex Kayola, Moyo District Tourism Officer, some of the locals involved in the illegal activities have not seen the benefits associated with the natural resource but advised them to focus on conservation rather than destruction. He stressed that continuous hunting or poaching of wild animals will result in the extinction of certain animal species.
Developing Mt. Otce as a tourist site will help create employment, generate local revenue and act as a link between other sectors, he observed, also linking underdevelopment in the sector to a lack of marketing and awareness of the importance of tourism to the community.
“We are trying our best to put this place into better use through employing and training Tour Guides to help conserve the environment and market our products and we are planning to engage our communities to understand the true values attached to these natural resources,” said Kayola.
According to the Uganda Wildlife Act, compensation will be given to a person who suffers bodily injury or is killed or suffers damage or his or her property has been vandalized by wild animals and compensation of victims will be determined according to the market rates.
Furthermore, the Wildlife Act of 2019 still provides for compensation for losses occasioned by animals escaping from Wildlife Protected Areas but this has not been witnessed by residents of Moyo district and Greater West Nile.
The Act remains to be tested on the communities in the region for the survival of wildlife and other natural resources.
By Kei Emmanuel Duku