Andrew Rice’s NY Times Magazine piece (1/27/08) on Ankole cattle in Uganda reminded me of the time we found our way blocked by a small herd of the beautiful long-horned beasts in Lake Mburo National Park. The park was created in 1982, preserving 260 square kilometers (158 sq. miles) for elands, topi, kobs, crowned cranes, zebras, hyenas, and a few leopards, but displacing local farmers who had grazed their Anokle cattle there for generations.
I can make an argument either way about the effects of creating the preserve, but it’s the way the farmers cope with the situation that illustrates how much of the region’s economy functions.
The farmers graze their herd near the park during the day, but often allow them to wander into the preserve at night. It’s perfectly safe—the farmers poisoned all the lions long before Lake Mburo became a preserve. The only danger is from the law: the farmer is subject to a 50,000 Ugandan shilling fine for every cow caught on park land. That’s about US $28—a ruinous amount in a country where the average per capita income is $2 per day.
No one pays such a ridiculous fine, of course. Instead, every morning, park rangers obligingly round up the trespassing cattle and herd them into pens. The farmers come by later in the day, slip the rangers a few shillings for their trouble, then take their cattle home.
The cattle are fed on the sweet grass of the Lake Mburo National Park, the rangers supplement their meager government salary, and life goes on in this tiny corner of Africa.