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by Marlene Harris

Winter 2001   —   Elephants Seek Shelter

Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park has become home for a large number of displaced elephants from neighboring Congo. It is believed the elephants have fled the Congo, where war has raged since 1998. The ironic part is that Uganda, not that long ago, was itself war ravaged, and the elephants, as well as most wildlife, suffered as a result. It is estimated that over 90% of Uganda’s elephants were killed during the 70s and 80s. Other species including rhino and the oryx are now extinct in Uganda. But peace has now reigned in Uganda for over a decade, and the government is seeking to rejuvenate a tourist industry which has not yet recovered from the ravages of the war years. Queen Elizabeth Park is stunning, nestled at the foot of the towering Ruwenzori Mountains in western Uganda. And the new elephants have been warmly welcomed by park staff as a way to increase tourism.

Park rangers began noticing these elephants about a month ago; they behaved differently from the resident elephants. For one thing, many had strange ear tags, and some had scars that looked as if they had been caused by gun shots. But the biggest difference was in their behaviour; these elephants were secretive, nervous, mostly out of sight during the day, foraging at night in the nearby villages, something the resident elephants do not do. Village residents have complained about the destruction of their crops by these new elephants, but they have not met with much sympathy by park staff, who say the increase in elephant numbers will be good for tourism; they also blame the villagers themselves for planting crops too close to, and in some cases within park boundaries. Thousands of people live within the boundaries of the park, and park officials feel that just as the park’s wildlife must adapt to living so close to people, so must people adapt to living so close to wildlife.

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