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.


Musambwa Island Birds Threatened by Fishermen

Lake Victoria is under threat, and the very people this natural resource is supposed to serve are the ones threatening its existence. Until World Environment Day on June 5, in a campaign, Save Lake Victoria, Vision Group media platforms will run investigative stories and commentaries highlighting the irresponsible human activities threatening the world’s second largest fresh water lake. Today, we bring you the story of Musambwa Islands, one of the largest bird breeding places in Africa.

Things are falling apart on Musambwa Islands. Fish catches have dwindled. The fishermen are selling and eating eggs, threatening a tourism industry which rakes in over $800m in revenue.

At least the snakes on the islands are still happy and men only dream of women. But the mother birds are in misery, while the young fish live in constant fear of ending up in a saucepan.

Until recently, Musambwa Islands was perhaps the only place on earth where man and nature co-existed harmoniously, minus women. However today, scarcity of fish has brought an ugly twist.


Found on Lake Victoria in Rakai district, this tiny rocky island is a recognised Ramzar site, an important bird area. It supports large populations of congregatory breeding birds like the grey headed gull, greater cormorant, little egret and the long-tailed cormorant, among others. It is known to be the largest breeding site for African birds.

Over the years, fishermen have been settling on Musambwa and using it as a spring board to reach the deep waters of Lake Victoria. Today, Musambwa hosts about 150 fishermen, yet most of them are too poor to afford motorised boats to fish in far off waters.

Consequently, overfishing close to the shores has depleted fish stocks in waters surrounding the islands. The fishermen use illegal fishing gear and sweep immature fish out of the lake.

With fish stocks no-longer enough to growing populations, fishermen have done away with taboos of the Islands that prohibited the eating of bird eggs and started preying on the eggs.

Myths about the island

In the old days, fishermen lived in harmony with snakes and birds. They earned a living out of fishing while conserving nature by fear of superstitions, taboos and customs.

One of the first people to settle on the island is Mzee Emmanuel Kaberenge.  He came to the island in 1964, found many taboos and passed them on to subsequent fishermen.

By then, he says, only four people lived on the islands. Women and sex are prohibited. That initially kept the population small and minimised thefts.

The second myth prevents people from killing snakes as they are believed to be gods. Consequently, Musambwa is the only location on earth where people live with cobras of all sizes, with mutual respect for one another.

The third commandment, which has now collapsed, prohibited fishermen from eating or selling eggs of the thousands of birds that live and breed on the Island.

However, to compensate for loss of income and food from fish, the fishermen have turned to birds for survival. They eat and sell eggs of the thousands of birds which have lived and bred on the islands for centuries.

What authorities say

According to the executive director of Nature Uganda, Achilles Byaruhanga, the population of grey-headed gulls on Musambwa dropped to 30,000 birds, from 120,000  in one year, between 2004 and 2005, due to commercialization of their eggs.

The eggs were increasingly attracting higher commercial value on the mainland, replacing fishing as the major income-generating activity at the island.

However, with Nature Uganda intervention, the bird population has since increased Byaruhanga says.

Nature Uganda, working with other development partners has been sensitising the fishermen and promoting Musambwa as birding tourist destination.

In Uganda, the tourism sector is the second largest foreign exchange earner. It generated $805m ( sh2b) in foreign exchange in 2011/2012. The sector’s total contribution to GDP is estimated at $1.4b, representing 7.6% of GDP; in 2011 trailing only remittances from abroad.

Uganda a bird paradise

Over half of all bird species in Africa can be found in Uganda, making it the richest African birding destination.

Uganda was recently declared a preferred bird-watching destination 2013/2014, a development expected to uphold the country as the continent’s best birding destination.

Birding is a high end tourism package, where tourists stay longer and spend more on tourism. Birding generates about $6.3m (about sh16m) annually doubling revenue from gorilla tracking and is still growing. Uganda has over 1,000 bird species; accounting for about 50% of birds in Africa and 11% of the global population.

Internationally, Musambwa Islands are known to be the largest breeding site for the African race of the grey-headed gulls in Africa, whose eggs the fishermen eat and sell.

Byaruhanga estimates the price of three eggs at sh1,000 though the fishermen do not want to talk about it.

Despite the importance of birds to the economy, in Musambwa, they have been attacked, with fishermen cutting trees where they nest to construct shelters and for fish smoking.

What spiritualists say

Although Nature Uganda has intervened and is trying to reverse the trends, Joseph Bagorogoza, 67, and has lived on the island for 44 years, says respecting the gods is more effective.

Currently, Bagorogoza is the diviner entrusted with appeasing the gods of the islands. The gods are believed to reside in the numerous cobras on the island. He is the caretaker of a shrine under a fig tree. The ‘holy place’ consists of two spears and a calabash.

People with spiritual needs drop money under the spears as they pray to the gods.

Bagorogoza also keeps white cocks for the gods and only eats them when they grow old.  His other work is to tell people not to kill snakes, birds and not to eat birds’ eggs.

Bagorogoza blames newcomers and overfishing for the breakdown of Musambwa Islands cultural norms which initially bonded men and nature together.

“These days even the money for the gods is stolen from the shrine. The thief seems not to know the fury of the gods,’’ he muses. For theft of the cash, he blames a sickly looking old man nicknamed Mutumbafu (Swahili word for a stupid man).


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.

Events News

Nature Uganda Announces Dates for the ‘Big Birding Day’

Those who love the birds of the feathered kind will be marking November 27th 2014 in their calendar, when from midnight to midnight ornithologists and hobby birders will once again swarm Ugandas best, and also the lesser known sites to collect sightings and audible identifications of as many of the 1.065 species confirmed to have been recorded in the Pearl of Africa.

Every year families, individuals, conservationists and the tourism industry come together to celebrate Uganda’s Big Birding Day (BBD). Whether you are young or old, a beginner or a professional ‘twitcher,’ the Big Birding Day has something for everyone. For tourists taking safaris in Uganda, don’t forget to mark this great day on your calender. If you’re competitive, you might like to join one of the teams of professional birdwatchers looking to improve on last year’s incredible score of 275 bird species seen in one 24 hour period in Mt. Elgon National Park.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority and the National Forest Authority are once again participating in the event and will be offering free entrance to participants to the parks, reserves and national forests, to broadly promote domestic tourism and in particular raise awareness for the rich variety of birds found across the country. Last year some 40 official teams covered 38 sites across Uganda and brought home sightings of 622 species, something the organizers hope to better this year with more participants covering yet more of the country.

First launched in 2009 by Nature Uganda and conservation partners, the #BBD this being the hash tag on Twitter for the event besides #VisitUganda or Big Birding Day has since evolved into a major conservation and domestic tourism event, held annually and promoted by safari companies, safari lodges, the Uganda Tourism Board, the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the National Forest Authority. Companies have last year sponsored teams, collecting bird sightings and reporting them back via twitter to base for instant computation and updates and the social media will again be playing a major role in publicizing the event more broadly around the world, perhaps with enough hash tags even trending.

The winners of the event will be announced and celebrated on October 27th at a venue still to be announced, so watch this space for future updates. Meanwhile, visit with specific questions.

Events News

The Big Birding Day

While planning your birding tour to Uganda, as a birder I advise fellow birding travelers to book their birding trips corresponding with the dates of Uganda Big Birding Day Event. Here you with your guide will meet various birders and interact to learn more about Uganda’s birds and the migratory birds from Europe. On this event you will visit most of the important bird areas-including Mabira forest, Katomi Kingdom resort-Garuga, Lutembe bay, Uganda wildlife education centre and Botanical gardens Entebbe, Mpanga forest, Mabamba bay swamp for the rare stork shoe bill.

Mabamba Bay is one of the spotlight site where the highest number of Shoebills has been recorded in one day and over a relatively small area. This kind of concentration of the species has attracted tourists as well as wildlife traffickers looking for both the eggs and the birds for trade. Recent reports from immigration office indicate increased incidences of culprits of wildlife trafficking being arrested at border points, however, many still go unnoticed.

On the other hand it presented opportunities for income generation for communities through eco-tourism. Uganda tour operators and other sectors like Nature Uganda aims to support and strengthen the Mabamba community groups for long term conservation of the wetland.

This is mainly through:

  • Specialized training of selected community members in conservation linked livelihood alternatives such as tour guiding, crafts and eco-tourism,
  • Promoting avian – tourism especially Shoebill trekking in Mabamba Bay,
  • Getting selected community members trained to undertake basic site monitoring to track status – threats at the site and conservation actions within the site and
  • Community compliance policing undertaken on a regular basis to strengthen the implementation of the community management plan and improve on wetland management by the District.

The information collected will contribute to the effort to develop a global species action plan for the shoebill and creating a community-government partnership to cab wildlife trade.


New Bird Guides Passed out in Uganda

The Uganda tourism Board passed out over 53 bird guides in Kibale National park with enforcement of being disciplined and professional. This will help in improving the operation of the birding safaris within the country. The head of Uganda Tourism Board also commented that 50% of the tourists who come to Uganda are as a result of the referrals. He added that bad hospitality due to such factors as poor integrity which can lead to negative referrals and hence Uganda losing out.

The boss of UTB urged the passed tour guides to keep the high levels of integrity to attract tourism growth within the country which will also help in increasing the number of tourists interested in coming for birding safaris in Uganda. Birding is also a gold mine which meant that the guides must keep the standards and the integrity within the tourism sector. The new safari birding guides were advisable not to be so early to compete but in a hurry to cooperate. They were also advisable to learn more language to be able to add value to their birding training.

The training took two weeks and was sponsored by Uganda Tourism Board, United Nations Development Fund and also conducted by the Uganda Safari Guides Association. Tourism has fetched high revenues for the country which has helped in the development of the country, the guides are the eyes of the tourism sector and so they have to maintain discipline of the highest order. The passed guides will emphasize the quality of all services provided to the tourists within the tourism industry.

There are many skills of birding ecology which were learnt by the guides and these include; flight actions, feeding habitants, various bird feets, how to bird on foot, in a car, using boats and at night. They also learnt about the origin, evolution and the ecology of birding, behavior of birds, birds which are nearing to extinction, parasitic birds and the migratory birds. The guides are so essential in any completion of any safari tour in the country.



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.