For many decades, Kibale National Park officials have climbed mountains to protect the forest from poachers and locals that enter the forest illegally to extract natural resources.
As a result, most poaching occurs on a low scale with local hunters killing animals to get bush meat for their families. The hunters also sell the meat for money.
At times, farmers also kill African elephants to prevent them from raiding their crops planted at the parks boundaries.
Most of the poachers focus on small wild animals using snares, nets, spears and hunting dogs among others.
These threaten the sustainability of the park and its inhabitants.
Recently, courtesy of Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, l and colleagues took a stroll at the edge of Kibale National Park, where we found a former poacher, Silver Kyamukama.
Kyamukama narrated his life as a poacher and how he became a ranger and conservationist.
The 78-year-old dressed in a decent casual black trouser, dark purple shirt, gumboots, a cap and a pair of binoculars hanging on his chest, welcomed us and straight away told us how he spent 20 years as a great poacher.
He noted that poverty drove him into poaching.
In an interview, Kyamukama also told us about a community project which is helping them solve the human-wildlife conflict through bee keeping, from where they also earn a living.
Which animals did you hunt?
The animals l was poaching were Bush Backs, Wild pigs, Forest Giant Hogs and sometimes Buffalos.
For the case of Buffalos since it is a big animal, we had to bring out our hunting dogs, spears and you have to be very brave to take it on. At times it would kill our people.
I poached so many animals l don’t remember the number but the one that stuck on my mind are the Buffalo.
What drove you into poaching?
I practiced poaching because l was very poor yet l had the sole responsibility to look after my family by getting them food and money for school fees.
I would sell bush meat to the local community people and get money out of it.
Sometimes we would sleep and hear the elephants rumbling in the night and next morning our gardens would look like the elephants had a party in them. With no crop left to harvest.
How did you stop poaching?
I stopped poaching after getting a job offer from the Uganda Wildlife Authority. This was automatically better since they would pay me a monthly salary.
Sometimes we would go poaching and get nothing but here was a job that l would earn from every month.
Do you miss your old life, the bush meat perhaps?
“Now where can l get bush meat, I just miss it a lot,” he said.
Any advice to those still in poaching?
Come out of the bushes, stop poaching and join conservation. That way you will get people that will employ you and find a sustainable livelihood for your families.
Uganda Wildlife Authority recently started calling some poachers we know and offered them jobs so that they stop poaching. They also sensitize the locals on the effects that come with poaching and slowly by slowly locals take in the importance of the park and the wild animals.