Uganda has 10 national parks and 12 wildlife reserves that fetch a lot of revenue for the country but the neighbouring communities continue to exhibit hostility towards wildlife through poaching and poisoning of wild animals.
The most recent manifestation of human-wild life conflict was at Queen Elizabeth National Park on April 12 when 11 lions (three lionesses and eight cubs) were found dead.
The Uganda wildlife Authority suspected they had been poisoned.
Rangers from the UK and Uganda are trying to reduce hostility between national parks and local communities under Queen Elizabeth Parks Project.
The project mainly uses sport to positively influence attitude of the surrounding communities towards conservation.
The project was born when a ranger from Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda, Mr Charles Etoru, met Mr Steve Peach, a game ranger at Queen Elizabeth Country Park, in Hampshire United Kingdom at an international ranger federation conference in Kruger South Africa in 2007.
The initial idea was to twin the two parks with rangers exchanging information and ideas on improving the parks which lead to the introduction of Tag Rugby Conservation Tournament.
Tag Rugby Conservation Tournament is run every year in schools of the neigbouring Rubirizi and Kasese districts. The practice is the same in the UK. The primary aim of the sport is to instill concern for environment among the young generation to protect national parks and wildlife.
“We work with young people to promote conservation. The message is passed through children to reach parents and other people in their homesteads,” says Mr Yowasi Byarugaba, the tournament coordinator.
At least 15 schools participate in tournament.
Mr Keneth Tugume Apex, one of the managers of the tournament, says before the competitions, teachers from participating schools are trained on the dynamics of Tag Rugby.
The teachers in turn train their school teams so that they demonstrate good skills.
Mr Tugume, a rugby coach, says teams are also grouped. “Each pool we create has four teams and at the end of the tournament, the overall winner is given a trophy, tag rugby kit and medals. Every school goes back with a tree to plant,” he says.
He adds: “The tournament has happened three times since 2015 and every year it keeps growing.’’
According to Mr Tugume, the best players from the tournament are selected to form a team that participates in national rugby competitions.
The pupils are also involved in conservation presentations. “Apart from the tournament, we plant trees and conduct conservation talk where pupils from each participating school present a poem, composition or any other write up on how to protect and conserve the environment,’’ Mr Tugume says.
The schools also have an opportunity to visit the parks at a subsidized cost.
The head teacher of Kyambura Primary School, Ms Hope Musimenta, says the Tag Rugby Conservation Tournament is not only helping in creating conservation awareness but is also encouraging pupils to stay in school. “Kyambura Primary School is near the road and pupils drop out to join road side business. But because of this tournament, pupils are forced to stay in school so that they can participate in the competition,’’ she says.