Electric Fence Reduces Human-Wildlife Conflict
"For the past ten years, we had given up on planting maize. Buffalos could raid our farms a few weeks to harvesting and we could make immense losses. However, that has changed. We have harvested maize twice since the electric fence was put in place," says Byibesho Baudouine, a resident of Jomba village in Mikeno Sector. Constructed between November 2020 and June 2021, the 60.1 km electric fence around Virunga National Park in Mikeno Sector is helping to significantly reduce incidences of crop raiding.
According to Virunga National Park Authority, crop raiding incidences have dropped from around 194 cases recorded from November 2019 to November 2020 to zero cases from June 2021 to March 2022. This has enabled over 50,000 park-edge people to harvest more food and raise income from their farms.
Over 70 community members were employed to help in the erection of the electric fence. The individuals earned a daily wage of about US$ 5 each. On average, each person earned US$ 1200 for the 8 months of the construction, which enabled them to pay their individual and household bills including medical, food and school fees for their children. "Working on the electric fence helped me to pay school fees for my five children without having to sell one of my plantations as the initial plan was. I was also able to buy them new school uniforms, school bags and shoes. Heaven knows I had longed to buy items for so long but I was unable because of financial constraints," says Bahati Kamanzi Chantal.
Involving park-edge communities in conservation actions helps them to understand and appreciate conservation better. It also allows for ownership of projects by the community and consequent sustainability of the same.
Commenting on the benefits of the electric fence, Emmanuel Bahati Lukoo, Warden In-Charge of the Southern Part of Virunga National Park, says the electric fence has improved and ensured the safety of both animals and people and as well improved park-community relations. "In the past, crop raids were detrimental. Many buffalos were killed, while some residents got injured by the vicious animals in self-defence. People resented the animals and the park in general. Thankfully this isn't happening anymore, the fence has kept the animals at bay, and this has helped in restoring sanity" Emmanuel notes.
Crop raiding is mainly caused by buffaloes, but other animals such as elephants, monkeys and - rarely - gorillas have participated in the past. When the fence was newly erected, gorillas were seen trying to get under the electric wire; however, it did not take long for the highly intelligent primates to know that the fence was electrified and since then they have avoided it. The fence has kept all animals in the park and no animal has been reported to have been harmed by it. To ensure that the fence serves its purpose, there are some organised community groups who monitor it daily and chase animals which try to get too close, especially during the night.
The erection of the electric fence was funded by International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) under the Water4Virungas project. Water4Virungas is an Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) program in the Greater Virunga Landscape that contributes to the reduction of conflict and regional stabilization through increased access to quality water and improved watershed management at local, regional, and transboundary levels.
Human-wildlife conflict remains a challenge in and around several protected areas. Parks in collaboration with conservation partners have and continue to explore mitigation measures - these include, erection of stone walls, electric fences, planting of thorny hedges/fences, excavation of trenches along the park boundaries among others. Human-Gorilla Conflict Resolution (HuGo) groups have also been established (in Uganda and DRC) and have empowered local communities to manage problem animals and improve community-park relationships. However according to Altor Musema, IGCP Country Coordinator for DRC these mitigation measures are most effective when more than one measure is deployed. In Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area (BMCA) for example, Erythrina trees have been planted along the stone wall to reinforce it and prevent stubborn animals like buffalos from crossing over the fence.