The recovery of more than 148 suspected stolen cows inside a section of the Murchison Falls National Park by residents in Buliisa District on August 25 has opened a lead on how the livestock theft cartels operate.
A section of the livestock farmers involved in the hunt for the missing animals told this publication that the discovery of the 148 cows hidden in a forested area of the Murchison Falls National Park, was purely a civilian-led operation
After fruitless operations guided by the district security teams in Buliisa District, the residents in Kigwa Sub-county, Buliisa District, got a tip-off from people, who had seen a few animals being driven towards Bugunga Village that extends to Murchison Falls National Park. That was on August 24.
“We hastily held a meeting and decided not to involve the police, among other security officials in Buliisa District. On August 25, we set off in three groups armed with spears, arrows and clubs for self defence because we were entering an area presumed to have wild animals. We were also ready to fight off any resistance,” Mr Sula Kalandi, one of the livestock farmers, said in an interview.
Once inside the park, Mr Kalandi says the sight of animal droppings led them to “an area that looked protected but with no herdsmen.”
He added: “It is likely the people-in-charge of the cows had disappeared after sensing danger.”
Mr Sunday Kabango, a resident of Kirima Village, who has lost five cows in four months, said they drove the animals out of the national park after informing Mr Stephen Byaruhanga, the Buliisa Resident District Commissioner (RDC).
“We were instructed that we drive the animals to Buliisa Central Police Station,” he revealed.
Mr Byaruhanga confirmed that the successful operation was carried out entirely “by the locals.”
He also added that anecdotal evidence shows that “some of our people within the security are not clean and could be part of cattle theft cartels.”
Mr Bashir Hangi, the communications manager at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), told Sunday Monitor that grazing of animals, among other human activities, is prohibited in the gazetted wildlife areas.
“It is unfortunate that such an incident happened in Buliisa,” he said.
By Thursday, about 120 of the 148 recovered cows were still with police in Buliisa District awaiting identification by their owners.
Mr Julius Hakiza, the regional police spokesperson for the Albertine region, earlier revealed that anyone claiming the cows had to provide proof that they lost their animals and reported the loss to the relevant authorities.
“We have a problem that many people who lose their animals through theft do not report to police. We advise the residents to always report the theft cases to the police,” he said.
In Nakasongola District, where farmers are battling cattle theft, a section of the leaders are rallying for the branding of animals for easy identification. They suspect that some of the recovered cows in Buliisa could be from their stables.
Mr Sula Kalandi, livestock farmer
‘We hastily held a meeting and decided not involve the police among other security officials in Buliisa District. On August 25, we set off in three groups armed with spears, arrows and clubs for self defence because we were entering an area presumed to have wild animals.’’