Hundreds of farmers in Koch Lii and Koch Goma Sub Counties in Nwoya district are spending sleepless nights in the cold to drive away stray elephants from their gardens. At least a herd of 43 elephants and two calves from Murchison Falls National Game Park have for the past one month been straying into the area damaging and feasting on more than 500 acres of food and cash crops.
The crops include soybeans, maize, sim-sim, ground nuts, millet, and sweet potatoes which were planted this season. At around 5:30 p.m each evening farmers in the area both male and female arm themselves with metallic trays, vuvuzelas, whistles, saucepans, sticks, torches, clubs, basins, and jerrycans and head for bushy areas bordering their gardens.
They bang the items to make loud sounds, which they believe scare and drive away stray elephants from the area or prevent them from charging towards the area where the sound comes from. They notice the arrival of the elephants by hearing the sounds of falling trees. The daily routine is an exception for pregnant mothers, children, most elderly persons, and the sick.
The farmers also periodically contribute Shillings 5000 to buy some of the elementary weapons. The stray elephants majorly storm the area starting at around 6:00 p.m and wreak havoc throughout the night. The farmers who are supported by dozens of trained wildlife scouts in the area have also established temporary structures along the parking area where fires are lit every evening to act as a shield between them and the stray elephants.
Miriam Akello, a farmer in Ceke B Parish, Lii Sub County says that they do not sleep in their houses. She says that the elephants do not only eat the crops but also trample on them. Akello whose five acres of soybean were destroyed by the stray elephants last week has for the past two weeks been on duty sleeping in the bush. She says that she carries a catapult to shoot at the elephants and also blows a vuvuzela when they are approaching her hideout.
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Denis Ojok, a farmer from Ceke Parish, says that he leaves his wife and four children every night to join other farmers in driving away elephants from destroying their crops noting that this is done in shifts. Ojok says they return to their houses in the morning after a night of battle with the stray elephants. Sometimes the stray elephants storm the areas as early as 4:00 p.m.
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Kevin Alum, another farmer from Ogelo Village told URN from the bushes on Monday night that she endures the cold night with her husband to drive the elephants away from the area. She however says, the new herd of stray elephants are wild and not afraid and charge toward them whenever they blow vuvuzelas or make lights.
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Charles Oryem, who says he escaped being trampled on by the elephants thrice is still determined and sleeping in the bush to keep the elephants off his garden.
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George Anywar, the Ceke Village Vice-Chairperson who also lost seven acres of bananas to the elephants says that the initiative and unity being exhibited by the community is risky but it is the only way that they can protect their crops from total destruction.
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Moro Bonny, one of the wildlife scouts says that the farmers are suffering injuries as they try to flee attacks from the animals. He decried inadequate protective gear.
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Justine Odong Ajaji, the Koch Lii Sub County LC 3 Chairperson, says that records from his office indicate that over 300 acres of crops have been destroyed in Ceke, Paka Wera, and Lutuk parishes in the last two weeks. He notes that the farmers have exposed themselves to danger due to frustration and lack of solutions from UWA.
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Geoffrey Okello, the Nwoya East County Member of Parliament, who is saddened by the situation of the farmers, says that he is engaging the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to seek lasting solutions to the destruction by stray wild animals and compensation for loss and damages caused.
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On Monday night our reporter joined the Ceke community to drive away the elephants from the gardens. At exactly 7:26 p.m, there were sounds of trees falling from a distance not more than two kilometers.
Shortly, the sound was followed by bangs of vuvuzelas, whistles, metallic saucepans, and trays from dozens of women and men who had camped in the village. The bangers had sighted three elephants coming towards the community gardens. This lasted for almost one hour before the elephants left.