Uganda at the Cross-roads – Africa’s natural resources at their richest right here in Uganda

On 8th July 2013, Nature Uganda in partnership with Nature and Livelihoods Uganda, the Zoology Department of Makerere University, and the Uganda Museum organized a public talk under the  topic ‘Uganda at the Cross-roads – Africa’s natural resources at their richest right here in Uganda’. Prominent zoologist and former professor at Makerere University, Prof. Jonathan Kingdon was the Guest Speaker. The talk held at the Uganda Museum highlighted the incredible diversity of Uganda’s mammals and discussed questions related to the threats and loss of mammals in Uganda, what has gone wrong and the way forward to preserving Uganda’s exceptional diversity. Prof. William Banaga, Senior Lecturer – Zoology Department, Makerere University chaired the discussion.

The Guest Speaker, Prof. Jonathan Kingdon discussed African’s major ecological zones, and Uganda’s special position at the intersection, highlighting the reason for Uganda’s incredibly diverse habitats and mammals. However, comparing Uganda’s mammal diversity & population in the national parks of the 1960’s to the present, the prof. expressed his dismay at how much that has been lost.

He cited the example of Lake Mburo National Park that once had more game than the Serengeti of Tanzania, but is now only a shadow of its former self, having lost many of its animals to poachers and much of its land now settled on. He expressed his disgust at how even some portions of the remaining park are being grazed by cattle. “I (tourist) don’t come all the way from the UK to see damn herds of cattle”, exasperated the prof.

The prof. also cautioned against giving up our rich wetlands and ecosystems in return for foreign investments, citing the case of Mabira Forest which the government is contemplating giving a portion to investors for sugarcane growing. He acknowledged the much talked about second “Scramble for Africa”, a project he vehemently condemned and warned against.

His view was that before giving up any land, especially critical areas like forests, a comprehensive study by professional naturalists should be undertaken to ascertain the impact on the environment, and come up with necessary recommendations. The investor should be in position to set up an alternative ecosystem of some sort if he should destroy an existing one, suggested the prof.

Prof. Kingdon further elucidated that we all have our roots in Africa, no matter what race you are. We have our origin between the Colobus monkey and the Chimpanzee, he pointed out as he stressed that animals and plants are fabrics of Africa and that we are all part of this fabric.

Launching the “Mammals of Africa” book series

"Mammals of Africa" book seriesThe Guest of Honor, the Honorable Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Ms. Miria Mutagamba was represented by the principle wildlife officer in the Ministry of Tourism Mr. Akankwasa Barirega who read the Minister’s speech   in which she pointed out that the launch of books “Mammals of Africa” was a symbol of biodiversity richness and diversity of Uganda. She reiterated the government’s commitment to development of tourism and protection of the biodiversity of the country.

She further expressed her gratitude towards Prof. Jonathan Kingdon for choosing to launch these very important books in Uganda and that it was a vote of confidence to the Government of Uganda. On behalf of the Hon. Minister, Mr. Akankwasa went on to launch the “Mammals of Africa” series.

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Kasenge Forest – another Birding Hotspot on the Kampala – Jinja Higway

Kasenge Forest

Located 30km on the Kampala – Jinja highway & 3km off the road, Kasenge Forest is a privately owned natural forest in Mukono District. Situated in an area that has been heavily deforested for settlement and other ventures, the forest has been protected and has had a steady uninterrupted growth for the last 40 years.

Squirrel - Kasenge Forest
Squirrel – Kasenge Forest

It has remained a vital habitat for a range of wildlife protecting lots of birds, butterflies, tree species, monkeys, snakes and small animals such as squirrels and genets.

Birding at Kasenge Forest

A whooping 200 species of birds have been recorded at the forest, including some specials that are hard to find anywhere else in Uganda. It is another great spot for forest birding on the Kampala – Jinja highway, in addition to Mabira rainforest.

At the edge of the forest is a small lake (large swamp), a great spot for some water/forest species and an excellent start to the bird watching adventure. Alternatively, you could establish the trail along the dirt road to Kasenge and start off with some garden species.

Madagascar Bee-eaters, Kasenge Forest
Madagascar Bee-eaters, atop a dead tree in Kasenge Forest

The African Grey Parrot is common and conspicuous here, one bird that is very hard to find anywhere else in Uganda. The Giant Kingfisher, Woodland Kingfisher and Great Blue Turaco are commonly sighted on the trees at the edge of the small lake. Madagascar Bee-eater and Common Bulbul are seen on dead trees and vantage points into the forest. Scan around the swamp, the edge of the forest and finally get onto to a neat trail into the forest. More birds you could sight or hear include Little Sparrow Hawk, Lizard Buzzard, Toro Olive Greenbull, Open-billed Stork, African Pied Hornbill, Slender-billed Greenbull, Scaly Francolin, Superb Sunbird, Yellow-mantled Weaver, and more. Allow up to 3 hours for a big checklist.

Getting to Kasenge Forest

It is located about 30km from Kampala along the Kampala – Jinja Highway. Drive for close to one hour, get to Mbalala trading center and take the right turn and drive for 3km towards the Stirling Stone Quarry, turn to the left and arrive at the forest.

Kasenge Forest

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Birding in Uganda – Bridging the Gap Between the Local Media & the Industry

Birding in Uganda

With over 1000 species of birds, Uganda accounts for 50% of Africa’s birds & 10% of the global population. Given the country’s remarkable diversity of habitats that no other area in Africa can match, & not forgetting the favorable year-round tropical climate, naturally Uganda is the preferred destination for bird watching in Africa. However, there haven’t been enough initiatives taken towards monetizing and promoting bird watching as a lucrative tourism package both locally and globally.

Bird watching, as Mr. Byaruhanga Herbert – one of Uganda’s premier bird guides – explains, is the best nature experience because it never disappoints. “You won’t fail to see the birds” he says. He further explains that birding trips last longest (on average 3 weeks) compared to other tourism activities, and on average a birding tourist will spend approximately US$6000 during the trip. So if Uganda is to attract at least 1000 birders a month that would earn the country about US$6.000.000 in just one month! This would overwhelmingly boost the economy and thousands of jobs would be created.

One of the initiatives being taken to promote the industry is that to bridge the gap between the media industry in Uganda and the tourism sector. Because there has been more negative than positive reporting on Uganda from both the local and international media, the tourism industry as a whole has been affected greatly. In other words, even our local media has given little publicity to the overwhelming natural beauty of this Pearl of Africa, thus unknowingly or ignorantly suffocating the country’s potential as a top tourism destination and the number one for bird watching in Africa.

As part of the initiative, the Uganda Wildlife Authority in partnership with the Uganda Bird Guides Club is organizing Journalists’ Birding Day Trips to different birding hotspots around the country. Journalists from all the media houses in Uganda meet with the bird guides (both the seniors and beginners) and go out birding together, learning and appreciating the beauty of birding in Uganda. This will educate the journalists and enable them report positively on the industry hence help promoting & monetizing the birding package.

Journalists’ Birding Day Trip to Kasenge Forest

Journalists & Bird Guides at Kasenge Forest

Journalists & Bird Guides at Kasenge Forest

On Saturday 6th July, the first such trip was organized to Kasenge Forest in Mukono. The trip was well attended and a number of media houses were represented including Uganda Broadcasting Council (UBC) & Star Television, The New Vision, WBS TV, the Daily Monitor, and some freelance journalists. Journalists were provided with the necessary optics and went out birding with the members of the Uganda Bird Guides Association guided by two of Uganda’s most senior birders, Mr. Herbert Byaruhanga and Mr. Kamugisha Johnnie. Some of the spectacular birds sighted at the extremely rich Kasenge Forest include the Great Blue Turaco, Cattle Egrets, Woodland Kingfishers, Madagascar Bee-eaters, and Giant Kingfisher.

Madagascar Bee-eaters

Madagascar Bee-eaters were in plenty at Kasenge Forest

At the end of this exciting expedition, there was a general sense of understanding and appreciation of bird watching among the journalists than ever before given that most of them were birding for the first time. They all agreed to promote this adventure and promised to participate in the forthcoming arrangements.

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