Uganda’s Crested Crane Faces Threat of Extinction

Uganda, the pearl of Africa without the crested crane is almost impossible to imagine! Sad news from the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities in the country say that this beautiful bird is facing great threats of extinction. It has been reported that this symbol of identity and heritage together with the shoebill stork could soon be no more if encroachment on its habitat continues. This unique bird, the crested crane and the shoe bill have been listed as the Uganda’s top most endangered birds according to the latest 2012 birds’ population monitoring report conducted by the same Ministry – of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities.

In Uganda, there are about 200 shoe bills apparently living from more than a thousand in 1989 yet only eight thousand crested cranes are left, down from thirty five thousand in 1989, just as the report says. The principal wildlife officer, Mr Akankwasah Barirega, and the acting public relations officer at the Ministry of Tourism, says Uganda presents the highest opportunity to see shoe bills in the world as the bird is a vulnerable species getting extinct world over. The principal further stated that if those responsible do not act right away, Uganda may lose its national bird just like Nigeria did with the black-crowned crane which is nowhere to be found now.

Uganda just like Rwanda does not only have birds as a tourist attraction but also other activities such as wildlife tours, mountaineering, white water rafting, gorilla tours among others. The principal continued and said that the developers should spare wetlands as they are the habitats for these lovely bird species. There is a need of supporting everybody to save our heritage. Uganda without cranes will be a national disaster. The causes of decline include habitat destruction, especially of wetlands, disturbance through grazing, hunting for domestication and or trade, live trapping for domestication, over exploitation of wetland resources, urban expansion and illegal trade. Uganda has 11 per cent of global bird diversity which is 50 per cent of Africa bird species diversity but conservation of birds in Uganda is still in its infancy.

Mr Barirega said the government has currently partnered with conservation organizations such as Nature Uganda and UN African Eurasian Water board Agreement to develop action plans for conservation of Cranes and Shoe bills not only in Uganda but also across the entire range states. Mabamba Bay in central Uganda is now a global tourism site for seeing shoe bills whereas Kabale and Bushenyi districts have crane conservation programmes under Nature Uganda. Mr Akankwasah Barirega, added that promoting community based tourism in habitats with these much coveted birds has started so that the local people can benefit through tourism birding in Uganda.

Uganda is globally known as the bird heaven and birding is one of the biggest tourism products for Uganda. According to the Ministry of Tourism, Uganda generates over six thousand US Dollars each year from birding tourism in particular. This goes to all the visitors into Uganda, Rwanda or any other East African country especially the birders; ecology involves a cycle of the different partners in the environment. Birds feed on the different features such as insects, crops among others so all sectors need to be supported and this can be done by involving in other activities such as wildlife viewing, gorilla tracking, chimpanzee habituation to mention but a few.

Credits: This story was shared by Nakimera Olivia of African Gorilla Tours.

International Birders Praise Uganda

Uganda receive the three prominent international birders recently, one is the organizer of the world’s largest bird fair in the UK called Tim Appleton, the other is Bill Thompson, the editor and co-publisher of Bird Watcher’s Digest, one of the most read North America’s birding magazines, and Dominic Mitchell, who is the founder and managing editor of Bird Watch, Europe’s leading monthly magazine. These three prominent international birders roomed the country, a first ever since the Big Birding Week started 11 years ago and paid glowing tribute to Uganda’s nature and proved that Uganda is really a pearl of Africa.

As he was speaking on the event, Appleton said that Uganda has the possibility to attract ten of thousand traveler’s whole over the world because Uganda is proved as a bird’s paradise with all most all types of birds. These entire where said during the launch of the big birding week at forest resort in Kasenge, Mukono district. He also noted that, ‘’Uganda has the highest population of birds not only in the east Africa but also in Africa, and not only seeing birds but birders also have the chance of seeing other mammals and primates like the gorillas on a gorilla safari and chimpanzees among others,’’. Appleton, however, noted that Uganda needs to improve its infrastructure if it is to attract more birdwatchers. He also added that Uganda needs more nice wide trails for better viewing of birds because there is no point in having small trails where if some in front of you sees a bird, the one behind misses it,” he said’’. He also asked the Uganda tourism board (UTB) to get involved in the UK Bird Fair, which, he said, attracted more than 22,000 people from 68 different countries annually.

Uganda is a God gifted country with very many species of birds and Uganda is considered the best safari destination for birders and it boosts of more than 1,057 species accounting for 11%of the globe’s total and 50%of Africa’s. The African bird club ranking Uganda as home to two of the top 10 birding sites on the continent. Bwindi impenetrable forest national park is ranked number one birding destination and Murchison falls national park in the ninth position. Nature Uganda in 2003 started the concept of the birding week which is developed into the big birding day, this came after seeing the potential that lies in birds. This year the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and Uganda Bird Guides’ Club, among others, partnered with Nature Uganda to organize the event which was so colorful.

Maria Mutagamba the minister of tourism, wildlife and antiquities was represented by Rosemary Komutagi, the acting commissioner for tourism development in the ministry of Tourism. As she was speaking on the event, she said that very may bird species visiting Uganda had increased and this has resulted to the increase in the number of tourists who droop in to watch them in their natural habitat last year alone over 3,000 birders where registered in the country, according to Komutagi, spent $5,000 on average, bringing in $15 million. She urged tour operators to prioritize birds because they bring in more money than all the other tourism products. According to records she said, ‘’on approximation, each birder spends about 3 weeks on safari as compared to one week of a safari tourist’’

The executive director of nature Uganda Mr. Achilles Byaruhanga in his speech on the event said that despite the growing interest in birds and tourism in general, the number of birds is reducing, in the last 30 days over 90% that’s from 10,000 to 100,000 of the grey crown crane (crested crane), which is the country’s national symbol. “Although the interest is growing, we are losing the numbers. The challenge is matching the enthusiasm in bird watching to conservation,” he said. However he credited the decline to the fact that most of the birds are living outside the protected areas that’s on people’s private land, where they are easily killed. He said that there are over 34 birding areas according to the research carried out by Nature Uganda including Mabamba, bwindi impenetrable national park, Murchison fall national park, queen Elizabeth National Park among others. He said also that some thing must be done to preserve birds because they can easily migrate since they don’t need visa to fly.

Uganda Declared Top Birders’ Destination in Africa for 2013

Uganda has 34 key bird viewing points in wetlands, water bodies, wildlife reserves, national parks and forest reserves. Common bird species include shoebills, herons, eagles, blue throated rollers, red headed malimbe, scaly breaste illadopis, titi hylia, giant king fisher, scaly francolin among others.

If you are looking to a birding safari in Uganda, there are about 70 professional and well-equipped guides who can whistle and call birds at a given point, identify them and take you to their destination under their umbrella body Uganda Safari Guides Association (USGA)

Statistics from Minim show that Tourism contributed 9.0 percent of Uganda’s GDP, US$ 805 million foreign exchange earnings from 1.2million visitors in 2011. The tourism accolades never stop coming for Uganda. On top of being voted Best Tourist Destination for 2012, Uganda was declared Africa’s Preffered Birding Destination in October after Africa Bird Club voted two of Uganda’s birding sites among the top 10 birders’ destinations in Africa.

Bwindi Forest, the best place for gorilla safaris in Africa was, actually, voted the best birding site in Africa with Murchison coming in at no. 9 – and with over 1050 bird species within its borders, Uganda sits comfortably among the best birding
destinations in the whole world.

Birding is one of the most important tourist activities in the world garnering chunks of money for countries that have given it priority.

To ensure that Uganda stays in the international tourism limelight, the ministry of tourism and other stakeholders have declared 2013/2014 the “Year of Birding” in Uganda.

The minister of tourism, wildlife and antiquities Ms Maria Mutagamba did the declaration at Kasenge Resort Beach in Mukono on Saturday.

“As we begin our journey through our next 50 years of Independence allow me declare Uganda as the favourite birding destination for 2013/2014,” said an evidently joyful Mutagamba.

This declaration comes weeks after Birdlife International, a global program on conservation and protection of birds and their habitants, alongside Nature Uganda announced that there are 34 important bird areas in Uganda with diverse bird species that qualify Uganda to be the leading birding destination on the continent.

Mutagamba said that Uganda has been priding in recent accolades like the one of Lonely Planet which was influenced by the iconic Mountain Gorillas but birds will give Uganda even new dimensions and more options to shine on international tourism market.

The minister said the two accolades provide an important avenue and platform for showcasing Uganda’s rich bird diversity that shows the country’s endowment of having 1056 bird species that account for 10 percent of the globe’s total bird species and 50 percent of Africa’s bird species population.

Uganda Tourism Board Executive Director Cuthbert Baguma said that it’s now very important to start promoting the country as a major birders’ destination.

“This country is for all Ugandans that calls for patriotism by positively promoting the country in order not to kill the thriving tourism industry,” he said. He said they want to form a crisis management committee responsible for responding to all negative publicity that has smeared the country’s image, especially on the relentless Ebola and Marburg cases.

“There needs to be a committee which counters these negative and – most of the times – exaggerated stories and show people that things are under control,” added Baguma. “And they’re.”

Mr Hebert Byaruhanga, the chairman Uganda Safari guides Association (USAGA) said that Uganda beats many African countries in having rare bird species that can bring in money but the business hasn’t been tapped into.

He said that despite being a land-locked country, Uganda has over 1000 bird species including migratory birds which normally flock ocean coasts.

He also emphasized the fact that birding needs as much promotion as gorilla tracking. “A Gorilla tracking tourist may only spend 2 to 3 days leaving only US$500 for a gorilla permit and maybe some more little dollars but a tourist interested in birding will spend between 14 to 21 days and they spend over $5000 and that should be simple mathematics of what is more important,” he said.

The guides also said that usually tourists who come in for birding also do gorilla tracking yet those who come to see the primates are specific.