Killings not sustainable. Park authorities will say they did what they had to do against poachers, who are often armed and dangerous, but in the broader scheme of things, such deadly action is hardly compelling. Killing bushmeat hunters and poachers only eliminates specific individuals, but it does not eliminate the poaching problem. At the same time, killings only work to frustrate attempts at integrating rural people into biodiversity conservation programmes.
Green militarisation or the militarisation of efforts against poaching is a concept that has gained prominence in recent years. ‘Shoot to kill’ approaches to conservation have been documented in countries such as Botswana, where poaching is considered an act of war.
Scholars on this subject such as Rosaleen Duffy and others have weighed in on the topic of militarised wildlife conservation and how it escalates conflict between rangers and poachers as well as alienation of local communities. On the other hand, African scholars like Goemeone Mogomotsi and Patricia Madigele, have argued that those who live by the gun should die by the gun.
Four poachers were in late June killed in Queen Elizabeth National Park, allegedly by park authorities. This trend of militarised conservation has been increasing in recent years, yet local communities around the park continue to risk their lives through illegal park entry.
Those killed recently were two brothers - Julius Byamugisha, who is survived by seven children, and Roland Mateso, who left behind four children. The others killed were Vicencio Busingye and Patrick Mbyemire. All the killed come from Magambo and Kicwamba in Rubirizi District.
Park authorities will say they did what they had to do against poachers, who are often armed and dangerous, but in the broader scheme of things, such deadly action is hardly compelling.
Killing bushmeat hunters and poachers only eliminates specific individuals, but it does not eliminate the poaching problem. At the same time, killings only work to frustrate attempts at integrating rural people into biodiversity conservation programmes.
Bushmeat hunting plays a big role in household livelihoods by supplementing the nutritional needs of communities neighbouring Queen Elizabeth National Park. The hippo is very popular for its meat, which is a delicacy among the Banyaruguru and is thus popularly referred to as ‘kinywani kya bwita,’ meaning companion of millet/cassava bread.
The search for alternative sources of protein, park proximity, taste/flavour, cultural beliefs and other factors all fuel the desire among communities to hunt down animals for their meat. Yet, with each illegal entry into the park to hunt for the hippo and other preferred species (such as the warthog, buffalo or the giant forest hog), individuals, usually men still in their prime age, risk the possibility of death. Often their families will not even see the dead bodies of their loved ones.
During my several visits to Rubirizi District recently, I interacted with locals living around the park and from my assessment, many people you talk to know someone that has been injured or killed in the park. But locals who see the park as a sort of ‘tragedy of the commons’ continue to risk their lives. By talking to them, one observes that killing of poachers doesn’t break their resolve.
A militant conservation approach only breeds deep anger, and eliminates those specific individuals, but not the problem of poaching.
The recent killings in Queen Elizabeth National Park pose several questions: First, could it be that park law enforcement officers often overstep their mandate through such killings? What happens to the remains of those killed while poaching in the park? Are they burnt, eaten by hyenas, thrown in the nearby water bodies or left to rot? Why is park management afraid of handing over dead bodies to families to accord them decent burials? Do all poachers and bushmeat hunters killed in the park pose direct danger to law enforcement? Otherwise, why not arrest them?
These and more questions require a sober national discussion for the future of sustainable conservation. For those recently killed, relatives reported to police and contacted the park management. Escorts were given to the relatives to search the park, but it was an exercise in futility. All that was discovered was blood, but with insufficient evidence to indicate it was human blood. Even the intervention of the Chief Justice, who locals in Rubirizi see as one of their own and hold in high esteem, did not yield much.
From an ecological viewpoint, bush meat hunting threatens biodiversity in rural Africa and should be discouraged by every nature-loving Ugandan. Wildlife conservation is a core priority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are endowed with abundant species of wild flora and fauna. Uganda attracted more than 1.3 million international visitors in 2017, according to government figures.
Over the last 20 years, actors in Uganda’s wildlife conservation have done an incredible job in protecting and increasing animal populations. But amid all this great potential for tourism, poaching and bushmeat hunting remain major setbacks and indeed are an ongoing threat to the survival of species.
Still, shooting poachers dead is not sustainable. Rather, continued mass sensitisation on the importance of parks, reducing access to wire snares and illegal guns, promoting regulated use of park benefits, relocating wildlife away from private property, levying tough penalties on wildlife-related crimes and working with local community leaders to identify and hire notorious poachers (using a thief to catch a thief), are more sustainable conservation approaches, moving forward.
Mr Ashaba is a teaching assistant and PhD candidate at the University of Antwerp (Belgium).