Archive for April, 2009

The Shoe Bill: Africa’s most saught after bird

By Geoffrey Baluku

Uganda is more than just Gorillas. With 23 years of dramatic tourism growth Uganda has now been voted the number one birding destination in Africa. Travelers to Africa have unanimously consented that Uganda not only has a great diversity of wildlife but also a profusion of bird species.

Sir Fredrick Jackson, a former Governor of the Uganda protectorate and keen ornithologist once described Uganda as a “hidden Eden….and a wonderland for birds”.

He was right as no other area in Africa can match Uganda’s amazing diversity of habitats and this richness is reflected in the available 1056 bird species that include the rare shoebill stork – arguably one of the world’s most sought after birds.

Also known as Balaeniceps rex translated as “King Whale head“; the shoe bill is remarkably a striking bird with certain pre-historic looks. It is classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves and order Ciconiiformes.

The shoe bill has a large head and unusually long and wide colored bill, which ends in a hooked tip. Standing at 1.5 m in height and sharing attributes with both herons and storks, shoe bills with broad wings, long legs and unwebbed feet live alone in widely spaced pairs.

Some of the places known for viewing of this rare bird specie include Mabamba swamp on the shores of Lake Victoria, the banks of the Nile River in Murchison Falls National Park, Lake Kikorongo in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Lake Kyoga and the southern fringe of Lake Albert that adjoins with the Semliki wildlife reserve.

Their stealthy movements over rafts of floating vegetation, enable them to get hold of prey that include lung fish, water snakes and small crocodiles.

Partially nocturnal and sluggish, the shoe bill obtains its diet by probing the mud with its boot like bill. They also fly with their heads and necks folded back.

As the breeding season approaches usually in the months of April to June, the male and female start engaging in a bill clacking courtship prior to mating and putting up a nest of broken reeds and other aquatic vegetation.

Two eggs are usually laid with both the female and male taking turns incubating them for a period that takes about a month. Two silvery brown chicks are hatched – and do remain helpless for some time. The young birds are dependant on the skilful hunting of their parents.

This goes on for about four months – till the young bills are properly developed. Shoe bills life span usually ranges between forty and forty -five years. Approximately 1000 shoe bills are still believed to survive in different parts of Uganda.

With increasing human population characterized by continued habitat destruction and encroachment the survival of the shoe bill stork is paramount considering the increasing number of dedicated ornithologists as well as the novice bird watcher to Uganda who are coming in big numbers to get a glimpse of this rare bird.

The Virgin Rolling Hills of the Eland

By Geoffrey Baluku

Situated in Mbarara district with an area of 370km², Lake Mburo, the smallest of all savannah parks in Uganda is truly a fascinating game park. Established in 1982, the drive to the park takes between three and four hours from Kampala.

I may be a pen pushing wallah but when the wild calls, I will surely be there to remind you of the top tourist hot spots in Uganda. From the virgin rolling hills to traditional game drives, walking safaris, boat trips and hiking all combine to make the park a very special place. It is one of those parks that you will find something for everyone.

The park has a combination of acacia woodland, open grassland and wetland making it the ideal place for many species of wildlife.

Famous for its richness in biodiversity, the park has 357 different species of birds including the crowned crane, the papyrus yellow warbler and the rare shoe bill stork, 68 mammal species including zebras, elands and buffalos making it the ideal gateway for many visitors with a short time to spend in Uganda.

Predators, though rarely seen, are still known to be roaming the virgin rolling hills in the park. These include the camouflaged leopards, hyenas and jackals. The best time to spot one is early in the morning or late evening. As for the lions, they were said to have been hunted out in the 1970′s, though the buzz around the park is that some have recently been spotted again. Lions are well known for the art of camouflage and their curiosity that usually attracts them to campsites due to the smell of dry fish or meat.

Hippos and crocodiles are also easily seen in Lake Mburo with the surrounding papyrus swamps being a hideout for the sitatunga. On some occasions it is also possible to find herds of the famed Ankole long horned cattle freely feeding with zebra and the impala.

Arrangements for game drives on the impala and zebra tracks will help visitors spot zebras, warthogs, topis and waterbucks while hikes on Kazuma hill will enable guests get a better view of the virgin rolling hills and the different lakes in the park. Boat trips and birding can also be arranged through recognized tour operators in Kampala or at Rwonyo park headquarters where ranger guides as well as interpreters are provided.

Self-guided nature trails and an interpretation centre are available in the park and do help school groups and other visitors to learn more about the wildlife in the park. Visitors to the park may also enjoy a boat ride on Lake Mburo.

A variety of accommodation caters for all budgets in this park. Mihingo Lodge and Mantana Luxury Tented Camp are good options for overnight stay. Budget accommodation can be arranged at Rwonyo or in Mbarara town.

Tourism being one of the fastest growing industries in Uganda, one should therefore not miss the opportunity to invest in the sector. Opportunities for investment in the areas of accommodation do abound.

One could also tap in on the operation of a launch cruise on Lake Mburo and the culture of the pastoralists surrounding the park.

Lake Mburo National Park is truly the perfect stopover enroute to the jungles of Bwindi forest and the legendary Mountains of the Moon.

Kidepo Valley National Park Speaks to the Soul

TEA & Agencies

Tucked into the corner of Uganda’s border with Sudan and Kenya, Kidepo Valley National Park is truly one of Uganda’s spectacular parks.

It is an area of classic beauty with vast and myriad herds of wildlife roaming freely through untamed nature. Dare go there: it will really astound you! The park can be reached from Kampala either by air or road.

Although the journey can be tough, taking up to two days, the diverse landscape enroute makes the journey worthwhile.

There are three routes that can be used by road and these include the route via Karuma, Lira and Kotido which is approximately 705 kilometres; the route via Mbale, Sironko and Kotido that is around 740km; while the 792km route takes you via Mbale, Soroti and Moroto on to Kidepo. A 4×4 wheel drive vehicle is recommended for any of the routes to Kidepo.

In as much as the drive to Kidepo is exciting, most visitors arrive at the park’s headquarters at Apoka by charter flight.Gazetted in 1962, this 1442 square kilometre park though less frequented does offer a kaleidoscope of memorable images. There is something wild and starkly beautiful the traveler goes to feel in Kidepo.

That something extends beyond the open tree savannah, Acacia Geradi forest, scenic landscapes, vast herds and Karimojong manyattas (huts): it’s something that speaks to the soul.

The best time to visit Kidepo is during the dry season that runs from December to late March. In the rainy season from April to September travel is often not easy and game is not easy to locate as a result of the overgrown grass. Whatever your idea of a real Africa, Kidepo will match it as the park offers a tantalizing glimpse of Uganda’s unique wildlife.

The feel of Kidepo stems from the wide variety of things to do and see. For those interested in wild game, Kidepo Valley National Park provides a wealth of wildlife including 86 species of mammals of which 28 are not found in any other Ugandan park. Some of the wild game includes the dik-dik, cheetah, lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, zebra, eland, Bright’s gazelle and greater kudu.

Game drive loops through Narus Valley and around Kanangarok hot springs across Kidepo River will most likely enable you get the opportunity of seeing the eland, zebra and giraffe feeding together.

For the ornithologist, over 462 bird species have been recorded among which are the ostrich, kori bustard and the giant ground hornbill.

The trip can also be spiced up by attending either the ekaharo or emuya dance of the Napore and Nyangea ethnic groups. These traditional dances are some of those few experiences that you will surely live to remember.

If you simply want to relax and enjoy your holiday, the luxurious Apoka Lodge provides the perfect setting.

With the ever increasing visitor numbers to Kidepo, there is need for more accommodation facilities to supplement Apoka Lodge.

Opportunities abound for construction of new hotels in Katurum and other areas of the park.

All that can be said of Kidepo is that not only does its terrain alternate between seducing inselbergs and small hills but also from rocky outcrops to open tree savannah.

Get the Feel, Thrill of Mount Mgahinga

TEA & Agencies

Nestled in the south western tip of Uganda on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mount Mgahinga has an area of just 34 square kilometres and is the Uganda’s smallest national park.

It encompasses the Uganda side of the three Bufumbira volcanic mountains of Mgahinga at 3400 metres high, Sabinyo at 3645m and Muhavura at 4127m.

Mgahinga can be reached from Kampala either by air or road. From Kampala the park is about 540 kilometres and is punctuated with scenic views while charter flights to Kisoro Airstrip take approximately an hour from Entebbe.

Gazetted as a sanctuary in 1930, this park has 76 mammal species with the most notable being Uganda’s trump card; the mountain gorilla. Nyakagezi, one of the habituated groups or gorilla families, in this park keeps moving back and forth across the boundary of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 1964, the northern boundary of the sanctuary was changed to a lower altitude of 2280m extending into heavily encroached zones and gazetted as a game reserve which made an area of roughly 47.5km² that has gone on reducing to 38.6 square kilometres. This game reserve was later gazetted to its present status of a national park in 1991.

Other key species of primates known to be in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park include the golden monkey and the black and white Colobus monkey. Considering that this park is a gem amongst Ugandan parks, other animals to look out for include golden cats, giant forest hogs, Caruthers’s mountain, Boehm’s, side stripped jackal, honey badger, buffaloes, elephants and 12 bird species among which are the cinnamon chested bee eater and the globally threatened Grauer’s rush warbler.

Being an Afro-montane tropical rainforest, it has abundant bamboo that is one of the delicacies for the mountain gorilla. Mgahinga National Park has three extinct volcanoes. Though no special mountain gear is required, it is recommended that one has to be physically fit. The three extinct volcanoes are Mt. Gahinga, Mt. Muhavura and Mt.Sabinyo.

Mount Sabinyo commonly referred to as “Old Man’s Teeth” is the point where you will be in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at the same time. The hike takes approximately eight hours for the round trip that covers the 14 -kilometre stretch.

Mt. Gahinga, locally known as a “Small Pile of Stones” is another of the hills that make up the Virunga ranges while Mt. Muhavura meaning “The Guide” is a volcano that acts as a guide since it is seen from all over Kisoro. The hike to Mt. Gahinga takes approximately eight hours for a round trip to cover the 12 km stretch.

Another principal feature in the area are the caves. Most notable is Garama cave where the Batwa are believed to have once lived. This 342-metre long and 14-metre deep cave three kilometres from the park headquarters is now inhabited by bats. Kisoro town offers a wide range of accommodation facilities ranging from basic campsites to luxurious hotels.

Recommended hotels and lodges include Traveler’s Rest Hotel and Mount Gahinga Lodge. For the avid hiker, Mt. Mgahinga is the place to go. However, there is need for more shorter and varied walks that can be promoted around or within the park.

Semliki National Park -more than just Hot Springs

TEA & Agencies

Formerly a forest reserve, Semliki with an area of 220 square kilometres was given national park status in 1993.

The park got its name from the river that forms the Uganda – Congo border. It is the only park in Uganda that is primarily made up of tropical lowland forest.

The park can be reached from Kampala either by air or road. From Kampala via Fort portal, the park is about 363 kms.

As one of those parks with the most diverse wildlife in East Africa, one would not hesitate to conclude that Winston Churchill must have coined the words “The Pearl of Africa” from here.

With some of Africa’s most spectacular bird species, the novice birder and bird enthusiasts continue to visit the area in big numbers just like you see people visiting shrines and going to Pentecostal churches.

The unique eco system in the area is shared with Ituri forest across the Semliki River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Enroute to Semliki, a 4 x 4 wheel drive vehicle is recommended as it will also enhance your panoramic views of the park.

There are a number of hot springs in the area among which is the famous Sempaya hot spring with a boiling geyser of about 106°C that spurts up to two metres high from a white iced cake like base.

This is evidence that strong tectonic forces could have and continue to shape sections of the western rift valley.

The bird list is 441 species including some of Africa’s most spectacular and sought after birds such as the long tailed hawk, Lyre tailed honey guide, Nkulengu Rail and the rare Shoe Bill stork.

The park is also home to about 53 mammals and contains 336 tree species plus a good number of primates including the bush baby, potto, baboons, chimpanzees and an exceptional variety of monkeys.

Boat rides and fishing on Lake Albert can be arranged so as to offer you a unique unequaled experience. These activities will enable you appreciate nature at its best.

Other interesting areas are the Mungilo and Ngite falls plus the Semliki River which harbours hippos, crocodiles and vervet monkeys at its shores.

Also look out for the leopard, scaly tailed flying squirrel, elephant, buffalo and the pygmy antelope. Nature walks and a visit to see the pygmies at Ntandi can also be arranged.

For those who like exclusivity, this park is the ideal hideout for a quiet holiday. Semliki Safari Lodge is the only accommodation option in this area. However, one can still visit the park and later drive and overnight at Mountains of the Moon Hotel or Fort Motel in Fort Portal.

The limited number of accommodation facilities in Semliki calls for private investors to think about putting up luxury lodges and campsites in the park and areas of Sempaya and Ntoroko.

Queen Elizabeth National Park – A feast for all Senses

TEA & Agencies

It’s no idle boast that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill christened Uganda the “The Pearl of Africa.”

When it comes to wildlife conservation and eco-tourism, Uganda does command outstanding respect. However, a visit to the country cannot be complete if some time is not set aside to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park.

The park can be reached from Kampala either by air or road. From Kampala, the park can be approached from the south via Mbarara (420 km) or the north passing through Fort Portal (410 km). Three airstrips serve Queen Elizabeth National Park and these include Ishasha, Mweya and Kasese airfield.

This 2,056 square kilometre park was established in 1952 when the two game reserves of Lake George and Edward were merged into Kazinga National Park. Two years later it was renamed Queen Elizabeth National Park when Queen Elizabeth II of England visited Uganda.

It is one of the oldest national parks in Uganda and is designated as a Biosphere Reserve for Humanity under the auspices of UNESCO. Together with Kyambura and Kigezi wildlife reserves, the park forms one of the most diverse eco-systems in Africa.

Queen Elizabeth National Park is really enticing. Take time off and visit it. Visit with your family or that special person in your life, but go prepared to fall in love all over again for the park is blessed with spectacular scenery and attractions to fill one action packed holiday and still leave scores of other experiences to be enjoyed on a return trip.

The low attitude and its location directly on the equator mean that the temperatures can be warm, rising from a mean minimum 18ºC to mean maximum of 28ºC. The park receives up to 1250mm of rain mostly from March to May and September to November.

The melting glacier waters of the Rwenzori Mountains create a vast wetland system comprising of two main lakes George and Edward. Edward was named by the explorer Henry Morton Stanley after the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

The two lakes are connected by a 40km long channel whose shorelines are populated by thousands of hippos and birds all year round.

This park is a paradise for dedicated ornithologists as well as the novice bird watcher. The bird list is 612 species including the rare Shoe Bill, the Martial Eagle, Papyrus Gonolek, White tailed lark, Verraux’s Eagle Owl and the Lesser and Greater Flamingos.

The park is an ultimate feast for all senses. There are over 95 mammalian and hundreds of butterfly species.

Activities like the launch cruise along Kazinga Channel will offer you a unique unequaled wildlife experience. It puts one right in the heart of nature where many buffalos nest in the water while big herds of elephants can be seen enjoying themselves along the channel banks.

Many who experience it consider it the highlight of their entire African safari. The launch cruise schedules run in the morning and afternoon.

The open savannah dotted with Acacia and Euphorbia trees provides habitat for lions, leopards, buffalos and Uganda kobs. Among the many other animals seen frequently are the water bucks, giant forest hog, hyenas and topi.

Networked by over 200 kilometres of well maintained tracks, the visitors get access to the park’s game as some of the tracks pass through large mating grounds of the Uganda kob.

The Kasenyi sector on the east side of Kasese road is best known for lions which prey on large populations of the Uganda kob while the famous tree climbing lions can be spotted on large fig trees in the Ishasha sector which is 100 km south of Mweya Lodge.

Another principal feature of the park is Kyambura Gorge. This steep gorge was formed by turbulent waters of the roaring Kyambura River. It provides a lush riverine forest that is home to chimpanzees, red tailed monkeys, black and white Columbus monkeys, olive baboons and other primates.

The park also has one of Uganda’s largest tracts of tropical forest – maramagambo forest which translates as “the forest beyond description”.

This forest stretches from the foot of the Kichwamba escarpment to Lake Edward. Pythons are often observed in the crevices of the bat cave floor using the bats as a source of food.

The cave is near the copper rich blue lake and hunters’ cave. Beautiful crater lakes are spread throughout the park, the most notable being the Katwe explosion craters.

This cluster of extinct volcanoes north of Mweya peninsula can be explored by the winding 27km crater drive between the main and equator gates which provide superb views into the numerous craters.

A variety of accommodation caters for all budgets in this park. Mweya Safari Lodge, Jacana Safari Lodge, Ishasha Wilderness Camp, King Fisher Lodge, Katara Lodge, Kichwamba and Hippo Hill Camp are good options for overnight stay. Other budget accommodation facilities can be provided by the Ecology Hostel at the Mweya peninsula, Simba Safari Camp and Ishasha Bandas.

For those who prefer staying out of the park, Kasese town would be an option. Hotels such as Margherita and Rwenzori International Hotel are not only good options for families but also for free independent travelers.

Queen Elizabeth National Park is truly amazing – take your camera, for you will want to record all the wonders you will see!

Mount Rwenzori: Africa’s highest Mountain Range

TEA & Agencies

Awe-inspiring is perhaps an understatement when describing the beauty of this world-class hiking and mountaineering destination: the Rwenzoris. Described by one enthralled visitor as Heaven’s Garden, it is as though the gods had hidden this profusion of colour up in the clouds so that only those who dare might reach up and share its secrets. No wonder the mountain range is described as the Mountains of the Moon, even by ancient Hindu scriptures.

Mount Rwenzori can be reached from Kampala either by air or road. From Kampala, the park can be approached from the south via Mbarara or the north passing through Fort Portal. By air the park is served by Kasese airfield.

These legendary snow-capped mountains were declared a forest reserve in 1941. The reserve is a catchment area giving rise to numerous streams that supply water to the surrounding communities as well as maintaining the flow of water to lakes Edward, George and Albert. Rwenzori Forest Reserve was gazetted as a national park in 1991 and declared a world heritage site in 1995.

The Rwenzori mountains have a range covering an area of 996 square kilometers, lying 4° north of the Equator. The mountain range has six peaks that stretch from Mt. Stanley with Alexandria and Margherita (Africa’s third highest mountain at 5109 metres above sea level), Mt. Speke - Vittorio Emmanuele (4889m), Mt. Baker (4843m), Mt. Gessi (4797m), Mt. Emin (4791m) and Mt. Luigi de Savoia (4626m).

Mt. Rwenzori is renowned for its non-engineered, steep and slippery trails and frequent rain. High altitude, rain, cold temperatures, mud, bogs and steep terrain make it the most challenging range in Africa. Hiking the mountain commences with the hiring of equipment followed by briefing from the guides. At 1,646m departure from the park headquarters starts with a client walking past Bakonzo homesteads. On reaching the Makoma River, you cross via a very steep climb through open bracken fern slopes and podocarpus forest up to Nyabitaba Hut at 2,652m, which is the arrival point for the day. This walk usually takes five to six hours.

The following day involves heading westwards for half a kilometer then dropping north steeply to Kurf Shafer Bridge. One can choose to overnight at Nyamileju or continue to John Matte Hut. From John Matte you cross the Bujuku River from where you will enter the lower two Bigo Bogs and this is the place where your first real experience of jumping from tussock to tussock in a grassy bog begins.

The trail in this area is usually muddy to the south until the Bigo Hut which is an ideal spot for parties climbing Mt. Speke with overnight usually at Bujuku Hut (3,962m). From Bujuku Hut the circuit is continued on new trails, which rise and fall twice before finally climbing steeply through magical moss-draped Groundsel Gully towards Scott Eliot Pass (4,372m). The trek continues to Elena Hut (4,372m) which is the camp prior to climbing Margherita Peak (5,109m).

It is advisable that descent towards Kitandara should never be delayed. Here you will find massive rock walls and craters at the base of Mt. Baker. You then proceed via Upper Kitandara Lake through bad mud to the lower lake and Kitandara Hut where you can spend the night.

It is from this point that treks to Mount Baker or Mount Luigi di Savoia and Vittorio Sella can be arranged.

To avoid overheating on the steep long climb from the lake to Fresh Field Pass (4,282m), it is advisable that the descent starts early. From here one can descend through Kabamba onto the park headquarters at Nyakalengija.

Generally the trek is an excellent destination for keen hikers and climbers. The best time of the year for hiking is during the dry seasons from July/August and December to February. However, it is still possible to trek in other months. The fauna of this park is a checklist of 70 mammal species and 182 birds. The Rwenzori Colobus Monkey, L’Hoesti’s Monkey, Chimpanzee, Blue Monkey, Rock Hyrax, Red Forest, Black-fronted Duiker, Elephant, Leopard and the three-horned Chameleon are some of the wildlife that can be spotted.

A variety of accommodation caters for all budgets while in Kasese town and these include Rwenzori Base Camp in Ibanda, Hotel Margherita and Rwenzori International Hotel.

Why Uganda?

By Geoffrey Baluku

Uganda is a land locked country located astride the equator. With an area of 236, 580 sq. km, Uganda is bordered by Sudan in the north, Kenya to the east, Tanzania and Rwanda in the South while the Democratic Republic of Congo is toMountain Rwenzori the west. It is a country blessed with varied and spectacular scenery to fill one action packed holiday and still leave scores of other experiences to be enjoyed on a return trip.

From the snow capped Rwenzori Mountains through the virgin rolling hills of the eland to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, from Lake Victoria down the mighty Nile River to Murchison falls National Park, the country Uganda contains immense natural and cultural wealth.

It is in Uganda that over 50% of the worlds endangered Gorillas are still preserved; it is the same place where the mighty Nile starts its long journey to the Mediterranean Sea.

Mountain GorillaUganda is undoubtedly renowned for its Mountain gorillas. However, the country is more than just gorillas! For magnificence, the cheetah and Ostrich in Kidepo National Park, the Giraffes and Crocodiles in Murchison falls, Zebras and Eland in Lake Mburo National Park, are a must see. The launch cruise along Kazinga channel and the Nile River famed for their close view of hippos, birds and crocodiles not forgetting the tree climbing lions of Queen Elizabeth National Park are all true rewards to the discerning traveler.

But the magic of safari isn’t all this great country has to offer. For the more intrepid adventures bungee jumping and a climb to the snow capped legendary mountains of the moon – Mt. Rwenzori are a must for the daring. Other interesting offers include chimpanzee tracking, birding, fishing, Kayaking and the friendly people that complete the true story of Uganda.

Cultural tourism is also a popular choice for many visitors to Uganda. History buffs will find Uganda’s story an interesting one and will delight in exploring the relics of Uganda’s unique Kingdoms.

GiraffeFrom the friendly people, day hikes on the Virunga and Mt. Elgon, rafting on the Nile, discovering the dramatic lakes and launch cruises, Uganda truly is gifted with a wide choice of activities.

Characterized by 23 years of dramatic tourism growth, Uganda’s GDP is now at 6.5% with a budget that is 70% self sufficient. A big portion of the country’s land mass is dedicated to wildlife parks, thereby keeping Uganda on track as it preserves endangered and great wildlife and bird species.

With a diverse mixture of traditional tribes and cosmopolitan professionals Uganda is the place to go.

So welcome to Uganda – experience the warmth of our people and spectacular wildlife.

More Tourists in 2008, though a decline is evident in 2009

TEA Agencies,

Kampala, Uganda

 A total of 844,000 foreigners visited Uganda in 2008, representing a 32% increase over 2007. As a key contributor to Uganda’s GDP tourism accounted for 3.7% of the total. Despite this increase, it is clear that Uganda’s tourism industry is now facing difficult times as a result of the financial melt down.

The tourism industry is especially vulnerable to financial slow downs with consumers spending less on travel products and experiences in the short and medium terms. Expenditure on accommodation and

Gorilla Permits, Uganda’s trump card has decreased drastically as visitors choose more affordable safari options.

There was growing optimism that Uganda would soon achieve the 1 million foreign visitor mark by 2012. However, with the current economic melt down experienced globally and domestically, the effect on Uganda’s tourism industry is likely to be worse.

The unstable fuel costs and fluctuating dollar rate means that long-haul tourism is on the decline, particularly for middle income tourists. This has already had an effect on Uganda’s tourism industry.

As long haul travel becomes increasingly unaffordable, the integration of the East African region is now paramount for the region to achieve its tourism targets. However, reasonable controls such as some degree of protection for the Ugandan tour operators should be taken into consideration as we go into the final stages of the East African re integration.

The drop in visitors from all major source markets including UK and USA is now evident. According to research firm Trip Advisor, 58% of UK consumers are likely to or have already been influenced by the economic down town when it comes to choosing a holiday this year.

Tour operators in Uganda must now guard, at all costs, against pricing itself out of the global market as this destination now competes, on affordability levels, with Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.

With the deepening of the global financial crisis and economic slowdown, there is a rise of new challenges ranging from safari cancellations to souring inflation rates now believed to have settled at 14.8%.

These challenges thus call for a cash injection so as to help in facilitating tourism research, marketing and work force issues for the better of Uganda’s Tourism industry.

2009, The Year of the Gorilla

TEA & Agencies

Kampala, Uganda

United Nations Environment Programme designated 2009 as the year of the Gorilla. Gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and humans all belong to the order primates. Humans share 98.4% of their genetic material with gorillas and 98.8% with chimpanzees. Gorillas, the largest of the Apes are divided into 4 sub species belonging to the western and eastern species.

The western species include the western lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and the Cross river Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehl) while the eastern Gorilla species include the Mountain Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla beringei) and the Eastern lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla graueri). The eastern lowland gorilla and western lowland gorillas were identified for science in 1847 and 1877 respectively.

The Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei) was identified for science purposes in the year 1903 and has gone on to become Uganda’s star attraction. Mountain gorillas are physically distinct from lowland gorillas. They are larger, have much hair, a short trunk, a broad chest / shoulders and also have a longer / slightly different nose shape.

They are born small, covered with black hair and usually weigh about 2.3 kilograms. Gorillas develop about as twice as human babies with the mature female mother also under going a gestation period of 9 months. They are unique species; as a gorilla with an infant may not have another baby up to four years – good family planning.

Male and female young gorillas between the ages of three and six are classed as juvenile. During this period, both the male and female gorillas have a black skin and thick black hair and usually weigh about 2.3 kilograms. They increase in size and weight at similar rates for the first six years. On reaching six years; most Mountain gorillas weigh about 68 kilograms and are usually about 4 feet tall.

The female Mountain gorilla stop growing taller as they mature at around six years, this is as opposed to the male Mountain gorillas that continue growing both in size and weight past the age of six till they reach the ages of ten to eleven.

Between the ages of six and ten years, male gorillas have a black hair colour and are thus referred to as the Blackbucks. On reaching maturity which is usually between 10 and 12 years, the male Mountain Gorillas develop silvery grey hairs on their backs thereby being referred to as Silverbacks.

The Silverback usually leave their parental group at the age of 11 and then moves alone or in the company of other males for a few years before managing to attract females from other groups to him hence forming his own family. Silver back is a dominant male in a group of about 12 or more gorillas that usually include females, juveniles and other infants.

On a good day, you will find them chewing leaves, laughing and farting not only continuously but with a lot of contentment. They are diurnal (nomadic), sleeping each night in a fresh nest built from leaves and branches. Mountain gorillas are primarily vegetarian with their menu comprising bamboo, nettles and gallium being some of their favorite.

They occasionally also eat safari ants which are scooped in huge handfuls to stuff into the mouth until the safari ant bites over power them. Gorillas spend most of their time traveling and foraging in search of food since plants and trees change with seasons.

Gorillas communicate through vocalizations. Twenty five distinct vocalizations have so far been recognized with each one having its own particular meaning. As an element of their socialization, they communicate through howls, grunts, barks and hoots. Screams and roars signal alarm or warning and are often produced by silverbacks. They also communicate by beating on their chests or on the ground. This is done to show stature, prevent a fight or even scare off opponents. However, even the infants beat their chests as a kind of displacement activity during play perhaps just to copy their elders.

Mountain gorilla life is peaceful and quite. It is from this that they have come to be called Africa’s Gentle Giants.

These gentle giants are found in the areas of Parc des Volcans – Rwanda and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) while in Uganda, they are confined to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi “impenetrable” Forest National park.

Bwindi “impenetrable” Forest National park is situated in south western Uganda on the edge of western rift valley (Albertine rift) and is shared by Kanungu, Kabale and Kisoro districts. It is 331 square kilometers in size; on an altitude range of 1,160 metres (Ishasha gorge) to 2607 metres (Rwamanyonyi peak).

According to the census carried out between April and June 2006, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park now has a total of 32 gorilla groups. Of the 32 groups, five are habituated of which four are utilized for tourism while one is used for research. The total number of gorillas in Bwindi is 340 which is almost over half of the total estimated 720 Mountain gorillas in the world. The park was gazzetted in 1992 as a National park and is now a UNESCO world heritage site.

Renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall who happens to be the patron of the Year of the Gorilla, said in a statement, “it is time for us to pool all our resources towards saving these magnificent creatures”.

Gorilla trekking provides over 50% of tourism revenue for Uganda thus being a strong reason for their protection. At the official launch of “the Year of the Gorilla ” held held at the headquarters of Uganda Wildlife Authority on 17th April 2009, Hon Gaggawala Wambuzi, the Minister of State for Trade in Uganda said that there was need to conserve these magnificent creatures for posterity.

He noted that with the increasing population, the habitat of these Gorillas was increasingly being encroached on and that there was an urgent need for conservationists and the governments of Uganda, Rwanda and DRC to explore the missing gaps so as to save these endangered animals.