By Titus Kakembo
No city should be more excited than Gulu today, August 12, which is World Elephant Day. The city’s symbol is an elephant and the Acholi have treasured the elephant since time immemorial.
Today, August 12, as the beasts escape from Murchison Falls National Park and maul acres of maize, potatoes, and any vegetation in their way, no tribesman will raise a hand to throw a spear at them.
“Good enough, the Uganda Wildlife Authority has taught us how to keep them away. The communities in the neighbourhood have been taught methods of scaring them away by banging metals, digging trenches, and shouting. However, they are now accustomed to the shouts and drum beats. The elephants fill up the trenches and create a path” said Yona Odida, an LC chairperson in Nwoya.
An elephant by the shores of Lake Albert in Queen Elizabeth National Park
He, however, added: “It is the beehives that the elephants cannot adapt to. Big as it is, it takes a bee to enter its trunk for it to get irritated and slap anything available. In the process, it injures itself and dies. The good news is that we have saved our crops from them and are earning extra income from the honey.”
According to oral literature, the Luo owe their roots to the legendary Gipir and Labongo brothers.
“After Gipir used Labongo’s spear to hit an elephant that was eating their food. The huge beast fled with the royal metal lodged in its flesh. Upon returning home, Labongo was told how his treasured weapon had been lost. Labongo challenged his brother to look for his weapon if they were to be friends again,” narrates recounts Hilda Akec, the Nwoya tourism officer.
She says for years, Gipir roamed the wilderness searching for the spear.
“Fortunately, he met an old woman who rescued the wounded animal and kept the spear. Gipir was given back the treasured spear after making an agreement never to wound an elephant again,” summed up Akec. “The Acholi today still live by that memorandum of understanding.”
What officials say
Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) chief spokesperson Bashir Hangi says 5,000 of the 497,000 elephants in the world are found in Uganda and the number is shooting up.
At the Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC) are two elephants that were got from Queen Elizabeth National Park.
They have since grown so big and cannot be returned to the wild because they never had parental guidance to cope.
“The milk they drank in their infancy had to be imported from South Africa,” says UWEC executive director James Musinguzi. “Both have since got used to the animal keepers and are living with the other mammals on the 60 acres of land.”
While different government agencies and forces are battling to conserve elephants, some Chinese nationals were recently found in possession of 10 huge elephant penises valued at $4.5 million and were arrested.
“The culprits were residing in a house located on Kamuli Road in Kireka, a suburb of Kampala City,” recounts Hangi. “These were also got with six tortoises, and half a kilogramme of pangolin scales, together worth an estimated $8 000.”