Archive for the ‘National Parks’ Category

Gorilla Tracking charges lowered

The Uganda Wild life Authority (UWA) has slashed fees for Uganda gorilla tracking permits by about 60% to both locals and foreigners.

UWA executive director, Dr. Andrew Seguya, announced on Tuesday in Kampala that the fee for East Africans – Ugandan trackers inclusive will be Ush.100,000/= from Ush 250,000, US$250 from US$475 for Foreign Residents and US$350 from US$500 for Foreign Non residents.

These promotional rates are applicable only for the low months of March, April, May, October and November. For the peak months rates will remain Ush 250,000, US$475 and US$500 respectively.

This, he explained is meant to attract more tourists to Bwindi impenetrable forest, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and other tourism sites in the country. It is now on record that Gorilla trekking provides over 50% of tourism revenue for Uganda.

From a recent census, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park now has a total of about 32 gorilla groups. Of the 32 groups, nine are habituated of which eight are utilized for tourism while one is used for research. The total number of gorillas in Bwindi is about 340 which is almost over half of the estimated 720 Mountain gorillas in the world.

The census found that the percentage proportion of groups with several males (multimale) fell from 45% in the 1997 and 2002 censuses to 23% in the 2006 census.

According to an UWA press statement; this represents a normal fluctuation in the dynamics of gorilla groups. Because of the increase in the gorilla population, UWA has started a habituation process for two more groups in abid to boost Tourism revenue and satisfy the increasing public demand for gorilla tracking.

According to the researchers- “overall, the Uganda gorilla population has been increasing at an approximate annual growth rate of 1%, which is indicative of a healthy and well protected population”.

Reports also indicate that, in 2008, tourism earned Uganda $590m with 84,300 visitors. The tourism sector employs over 70,000 people directly while 300,000 people are employed indirectly in activities like handcraft.

According to the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), tourist arrivals continue to increase thus have led to recent increases in forex earnings from $590m in 2008 to about US$650 m in 2010.

Rwanda generates $56million in first quarter of 2011 from Tourism

The tourism industry amassed US$56 million (Rwf33 billion) in revenues in the first quarter of 2011, from US$43 million during the same period last year, indicating a successful start for the year.

During the same period, 201,088 visitors have visited the country representing a 32 percent increase compared to the same period last year.

John Gara, The CEO of Rwanda Development Board (RDB), attributed the increase to the diversification of Rwanda’s tourism products. The introduction of new products, particularly the 150 meters high canopy walkway in Nyungwe, is projected to attract at least 13,000 visitors this year.

“Due to the canopy walk, Nyungwe National Park activities almost doubled with an 89 percent increase in the first quarter of 2011,” Gara said, Thursday, during a press conference.

He added that in order to reduce human-wildlife conflicts in national parks, the Parliament and Senate voted in the compensation law to fence Akagera Park and contain wildlife within park boundaries and also compensate evicted families.

Gara said, “There was a 35 % increase in park activities registered in the three national parks,” He also noted that, “park activities in Akagera and Volcanoes parks increased by 20% and 39% respectively.”

He expressed optimism over the forthcoming Kwita Izina function scheduled for 18th June, which is a gorilla naming public event expected to massively boost the tourism sector, as well as attract several international celebrities.

“Kwita Izina will be held under the theme “Community development for sustained conservation” and will see 22 baby gorillas given named in a colorful event at Musanze. This is one of the major events in the tourism calendar, which we are all optimistic about,” Gara added.

As part of the country’s long term tourism master plan, Rwanda Development Board is to launch three birding routes outside the national parks.

Omusinga Charles Mumbere to Trek Mount Rwenzori

THE Uganda Wild Life Authority (UWA) has organized a seven-day Uganda trip to Rwenzori Mountains so as to increase awareness about Uganda’s tourism potential among Ugandans.

The trip, code-named ‘Trip to the moon,’ will begin on Tuesday, January 18 and end on Wednesday 26th January. The UWA organized trip is arranged at the same time the Rwenzururu cultural leader Omusinga Charles Mumbere will be hiking the Rwenzururu trail. The hike will begin with a cultural ceremony at Ibanda-Bugoye, near nyakalengija in Kasese district.

On 19th January, His Majesty Omusinga Mumbere accompanied by members of Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu, representatives of several NGOs, associations and media houses will then start hiking to the Mountains of the Moon.

The trekkers will first camp at the Nyabithaba Camp as they proceed with the hike. The team comprises staff from the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry, Uganda Tourist Board, members of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators, representatives of the United States Aid for International Development-Sustainable Tourism in the Albertine Rift, as well as various media houses.

Mumbere will among other things sign a memorandum of understanding with the UWA team, which will officially allow the kingdom to perform cultural activities and related duties at the Bulemba sacred site. This site houses the remains of Rwenzururu’s first king, Isaiah Mukirania Kibanzanga.

Mumbere will also open the Rwenzori Mountaineering Services building at Nyabithaba camp before continuing with the trek to Margherita peak.

Raymond Engena, the Uganda Wild life Authority Ag Director Tourism and Business Development, said the trip is intended to appreciate and market the beauty and opportunities within the Rwenzori Mountains.

It is also aimed at encouraging Uganda mountain climbing as a recreational activity among Ugandans.

$3m Grant from US to Save Lake Victoria and Mara River Basins

By Trek East Africa Correspondent

Nairobi, Kenya

A three year funding agreement between the East African Community and the United States Agency for International Development is expected to ensure that the Mara River Basin is properly managed so as to avoid environmental degradation. The Mara River Basin eco system is considered a new wonder of the world.

Under the agreement signed two weeks ago, East Africa Community’s Lake Victoria Basin Commission is expected to implement the Mara River Basins 2009 Bio diversity Action Plan that was recently adopted by the EAC Ministers.

Aimed at addressing threats to bio diversity hotspots in the Mara River Basin, the projects implementation will involve Kenya and Tanzania government agencies where the $3 million grant will be provided under US Aid Africa’s Tran boundary Water for Diversity.

The Mara basin water shed extends from Kenya to northern Tanzania covering areas of Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Serengeti National Park and also makes up part of the eastern rim of the Lake Victoria basin.

This eco systems survival depends on the flow of the Mara River. With less water flowing in the Mara, there is a possibility of less water to drink for wildlife and this could easily lead to human wildlife conflicts.

Rotich, the Deputy Secretary General in charge of Finance and Administration at the East African Community emphasized the importance of the Mara River Basin eco system. He said the intervention on the Mara River Basin was timely, since environmental issues in particular global climate change are affecting all people.

“You don’t have to spend a lot of time trying to convince people about the environmental devastation that is being experienced. Rains are failing, rivers are drying up or getting polluted. We have all contributed to environmental degradation. And now we must do something about it”, he added.

Lake Victoria Basin Commission was established in 2005 as a specialized institution of the East African Community responsible for coordination of activities aimed at sustainable development of the basin.

Single Tourist Visa for East Africa

By Arthur Baguma

The East African Community plans to start a single tourist visa for the region. The member states are discussing a protocol to create and market the region as a single tourist destination. Member states have started to coordinate their policies in the tourism industry and were establishing a frame work that would ensure equitable distribution of resources. In addition the partner states are establishing a common code of conduct for private and public tour and travel operators, standardized hotel classification and professional standards of agents in the industry.

A collective policy for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wildlife and other tourist sites in the region is also in pipeline.

“They include harmonizing policies for the conservation of wildlife within and outside protected areas, exchanging information and adopting common policies on wildlife management and development, coordinating efforts in controlling and monitoring encroachment and poaching activities,” information at the EAC states. The policy encourages joint use of training and research facilities and developing common management plans for trans-border protected areas.

These developments are good news to East Africa tourism potential. From some of the world’s finest beaches to unique wildlife sanctuaries East Africa is a tourism hub. In Uganda the unique wildlife sanctuaries East Africa is a tourism hub. In Uganda the unique Bwindi National Park home to some 340 mountain gorillas, the Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Park are also preferred sites for tourists. In Kenya, the magnificent Maasai Mara reserve, among 48 wildlife parks and reserves, including the amazing Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks attract tourists both local and international. In Tanzania, the world famous Ngorongoro crater, the breath taking spectacular Serengeti plains, wildlife conservation areas and Mt. Kilimanjaro – Africa’s highest mountain are just the tip of the ice berg of what Tanzania can offer tourists.

Apart from the scenic attractions, East Africa has a lot more to offer. Hotel and beach tourism is at its peak. The region offers a large number of historical sites spread through the region. It boasts of interesting traditional culture, the Makonde sculptures and Akamba wood crafts as well as the Uganda Kingdoms, cultures and tradition. The Olduvai Gorge in the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania is the site of discoveries of the traces of early humanity.

There is, however potential for development, expansion and promotion of East African tourism, taking into account on going development of tourism and other potential of the lake Victoria basin. The world’s second largest fresh water body is shared by Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

The number of tourists to the East African region increased significantly between 1995 and 2002.In Tanzania the number increased from 285,000 to 550,000 while in Uganda it increased from 160,000 to 254,000. In Kenya there was a slight decline from 896,000 to 838,000 but the figures rose to one million in 2003.

Currently the three countries attract more than two million tourists. The figures indicate a vibrant trend of the tourist sector in East Africa. With joint promotion of the industry, tourist visits in East Africa are expected to double in the near future. In 2005, the East African Community countries launched the plan for joint tourism and wildlife development including joint marketing and promotion of East Africa as a single tourist destination.

Starting with the Internationale Tourismus Borse (ITB), Berlin 2006, the tourist boards of East African countries participate in international trade fairs under one roof, the East African Village exhibition area. On going activities aim at developing both short and long term measures in the joint promotion and marketing of East Africa as a single tourist destination.

The plan and strategy for joint development and promotion of tourism envisages steady growth due to stable political and peaceful conditions prevailing in the region coupled with modernization of infrastructure, transport and communications facilities and links to all parts of the world by major world air lines and ocean cruises.

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.