Uganda is an East African country that is full of mountains, rivers, lakes and forests protecting a wide range of flora and fauna. Dubbed as the “Pearl of Africa”, Uganda is a rewarding destination that is home to interesting wildlife such as mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, tree climbing lions, elephants etc.
Imagine a visit to Uganda where there are no mountain gorillas, Ugandan kob, lions, chimpanzees or elephants. Imagine a hike on Mt. Elgon or the Rwenzoris where all of the hillsides are cultivated with farms. It’s not a compelling picture and one that conservationists are working to avoid. Uganda is well endowed with rain forests, wetlands, savannas, mountains, lakes, rivers and amazing wildlife which all contribute to its tagline: A safari in Uganda is a journey through the Pearl of Africa and will enhance our quality of life. But whose job is it to protect these things?
Conservation is the protection, preservation and careful management of natural resources around us and it’s everyone’s job. Some people are conservationists by profession and they are involved in a number of activities: research, education, policy and regulatory framework strengthening, maintaining natural corridors and buffers for roaming species, conserving threatened fauna and flora, and teaching and training community involvement in conservation. Conservation of these resources not only protects them for future generations to use and enjoy, but for us today as a properly functioning ecosystem provides rainfall, maintains oxygen, and purifies our water.
Conservation wasn’t a big issue in the 1920’s when the country’s population was small and scattered. However as the human population increased, rural communities rapidly expanded into wildlife areas and forest reserves resulting into habitat degradation and resource conflict.
In the 1950s and 1960s the Game Department created a number of game reserves and national parks such as Murchison Falls National Park (1952) to protect wildlife and its habitats in key areas. In these areas settlement, farming and hunting were prohibited. In the 1970s, during years of political upheaval resource management and monitoring was diminished, wildlife were poached, forests were cut for timber, and land cleared for settlement and agriculture. During this time wildlife and tourism declined drastically.
During the late 1980’s and 1990’s conservation of wildlife and wild lands picked up again with many people getting involved in conservation. In the 1990s the government resolved to rebuild the tourism infrastructure, and evicted squatters from forest reserves. Some forest reserves were upgraded to national parks, such as Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in 1991 which is home to half of the world’s population of mountain gorillas.
A number of government lead agencies are mandated to manage and protect Uganda’s natural resources. Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) (established in 1996 after merging Uganda National Parks and the Game Department) is the lead agency that ‘conserves and manages Uganda’s wildlife for the people of Uganda and the whole world’ (http://www.ugandawildlife.org). National Forestry Authority (NFA) is the lead agency mandated to sustainably manage the Central Forest Reserves (506 of them!), and supplies forestry-related products/services (http://www.nfa.org.ug). Finally, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) is ‘charged with the responsibility of coordinating, monitoring, regulating and supervising environmental management in the country’ http://nema-ug.org. Want help addressing noise pollution? Call NEMA!
These government agencies work in partnership with both national and international NGOs and civil society organizations, which are a valuable source of support for conserving Uganda’s natural heritage. A directory of such organizations can be found here: http://www.earthdirectory.net/uganda#organizations.
Today in Uganda, demand for agricultural land, charcoal, timber, commercial development, and land for new homesteads have resulted in the loss and degradation of important resources. Conservation is everyone’s responsibility, including support from all sectors of Ugandan society. You can support conservation efforts here in the following ways:
- Visit Uganda’s wild places – but when you do, book with tour operators and lodges which support local conservation and communities;
- Buying wooden furniture? Know what wood is used in the new furniture you are buying—several tree species are endangered and are illegally cut;
- Support conservation organizations working in the country – they often have fun events and fundraisers with which you can get involved!
- Pay attention to news about companies wanting to expand into protected forests or parks and sale of public land to private entities. If you feel it’s wrong or endangering Uganda’s natural resources then speak out – public opinion means a lot to both the government and private industry;
- Keep your trash and recycling in the proper locations to protect our wildlife from ingesting lethal objects. Want to know more about recycling? Come back next week and we’ll point you in the right direction on where/how to recycle in Uganda!
Explore Uganda, the Pearl of Africa
As a tourist destination, Uganda is both exotic and accessible destination. This country has an attractive balance showcasing the natural and cultural wonders of the country with friendly hospitality. A stable, peaceful democracy with a well-established tourist infrastructure, Uganda is a classic destination with diverse attractions extending well beyond the wildlife circuit.
National Parks and Reserves
According to the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), the country has more land dedicated to parks and reserves than any other wildlife destination. Some of the most interesting national parks include Rwenzori National Park—home to Africa’s tallest peak and Bwindi impenetrable National Park, whose name alone evokes images of a classic safari in search of the much-sought-after mountain gorillas. Along with the adjacent Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Bwindi is a home to more than a half of the world’s mountain gorillas. Bwindi is a prime destination for gorilla safaris, some of the most important adventures sought-after by tourists visiting Central Africa.
The Queen Elizabeth National Park is famous for its tree climbing lions; Kyambura gorge in Queen Elizabeth is also famous for chimpanzees, savannah plains and spectacular highlands. The park is home to lions, herds of elephants, buffalos, antelopes and hogs. The lesser-known parks and reserves offer stunning scenery and wildlife too, but with fewer visitors and the chance for tranquil seclusion.
The Ssese islands
Dominated by Unspoiled sandy beaches and warm waters teeming up with brilliant marine life, Ssese islands attract tourists in need of relaxing from around the world. Once independent from mainland Entebbe, the Ssese island archipelago is a center for nature wonders and a cultural place of significance for the Baganda people in Buganda kingdom.
Tours, Excursions and Expeditions
Traditional safaris in Uganda– tracking and viewing wildlife in a 4WD vehicle with a guide and/or driver–are enduringly popular with visitors to Uganda. There are, however, many other styles of safari available, including hiking tours, gorilla tracking, chimpanzee tracking, mountain biking, night safaris and horseback riding. You can as well take guided walking trips through the bush, tracking animals and experiencing the landscape up close with all of your senses. Some safaris focus specifically on birds or big cats, and some include cultural excursions to local villages. Hundreds of people each year attempt to reach the 5109 metres peak of Mount Rwenzori. Although various routes to the top do not require mountaineering skills, they demand physical fitness, preparation and enough time to acclimatize to changing conditions on the way up.
Citizens from Angola, st. Vincent, Comoros, Zambia, Eritrea, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Madagascar, Rwanda, Seychelles, Swaziland, Tanzania, Malta, Zimbabwe, Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Solomon Islands, Belize, Vanuatu, Fiji, Gambia, Grenada, Jamaica, Lesotho, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Tonga, Italy (only Diplomatic Passports)and Cyprus do not need a visa to enter Uganda, but most visitors can obtain one upon arrival. Your passport must be valid for at least six months and you must have a yellow fever vaccination certificate. It is highly recommended to carry a copy of your passport at all times while in Uganda. Credit cards are not widely accepted outside major hotels, but there are ATMs in urban areas. Traveler’s checks are not widely accepted so not a good idea to carry one.
Health and Safety
In addition to yellow fever and routine vaccinations, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends immunizations for hepatitis A and B, typhoid and polio before traveling to Uganda. A rabies vaccination is recommended for those who intend to spend a lot of time outdoors and in rural areas. Ant malarial and bite-prevention measures also are essential. Consult a travel health professional at least a month before your trip to Uganda.