UNITE Tackles Human-Wildlife Conflicts
by Michelle Slavin
For communities bordering Uganda’s Kibale National Park, animals such as elephants, baboons, bush pigs, vervet monkeys and even chimpanzees are often characterized as "problem animals” wandering into farms to help themselves to breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hours of labor and hundreds of thousands of shillings are lost, and families that rely solely on subsistence farming can be harmed. Additionally, children are often kept out of school in order to guard their family's farms.
UNITE worked closely with Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) researchers from Kibale National Park and from the PACE project in the United Kingdom to design a training workshop that best met the needs of teachers in the affected villages. Tinka John and I even visited the elephant trenches which are used to keep elephants within park boundaries and out of peoples’ fields. In September and October 2011, we tackled human/wildlife conflict issues head-on by offering training to almost 100 teachers.
Our goal was not to demonstrate for the teachers the best ways to defend against problem animals; instead the goal was to help teachers understand that even problem animals such as baboons and elephants can be beneficial to humans and the environment. Teachers learned to make paper from elephant dung, developed plays about humans that were based on real-life baboon interactions, and used sweet potatoes to paint pictures of problem animals. We also had great discussions about the role of problem animals in the ecosystem. All of the acitvities were designed to be implemented in the classroom and designed to the Uganda National Curriculum.UNITE Teachers Eliab, Tadeo and Herbert make paper from elephant dung.
A Community Conservation Ranger from UWA attended both trainings and informed teachers of ways they could prevent crop raiding in their communities, and how UWA could help them. He even gave away his personal telephone number! This was a great trust builder as communities have many misconceptions about UWA and its role in the the problem of crop-raiding.
The pre- and post-training evaluations revealed a change in attitudes towards both UWA and problem animals. The majority of teachers now believe that problem animals are their responsibility, not just UWA's. One teacher anonymously wrote "The attitude I had about problem animals has postitively changed. They are really helpful to our environment and we need them to remain."
It has been just a few weeks since the last training, and already one school has begun making elephant dung paper. With time we expect to see more activities being implemented in communities. An added bonus is that the UWA Community Conservation Warden received such a positive report about the trainings that he requested UNITE's training manual to be sent to other national parks in the country.
About the author:
Michelle Slavin is UNITE's Conservation Education Trainer in Uganda
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