Uganda – the global birding destination

Uganda is the home of more than 50 per cent of all birds in Africa. Also, more than 10 per cent of the world’s birds reside in Uganda. Arguably, Sir Winston Churchill was right to refer to Uganda as “The Pearl of Africa” in his 1908 book titled My African Journey.  Uganda’s biodiversity partly explains Churchill’s observation.

A Total of 768 bird species were recorded from 28 national parks and non-protected areas across the country. In 2013, the African Bird Club voted Uganda as the destination for bird watching; and in 2012, the country was labelled the best destination on the Lonely Planet Website.

Uganda cumulatively has registered 1067 bird species, which is 50 per cent of African bird species and 10 per cent of global bird species.

Red-throated Bee-eater Murchison Falls National Park Uganda Photo by Brian Zwiebel

 

African Openbill Photo by Arthur Matsiko

 

Gull-billedtern Photo by Arthur Matsiko

 

African Paradise Flycatcher Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park Uganda Photo by Brian Zwiebel

 

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Woolly-necked Stork Queen Elizabeth National Park Uganda Photo by Brian Zwiebel

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Africa’s hidden secret – the Ngorongoro Crater

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), said to be the only place on earth where mankind and wild animals co-exist in harmony. The area reportedly has over 25,000 large animals. Enjoy pictorial views from this famous resort.

Hippos, Ngorongoro Crater, The Serengeti Photo: Tony Young

The conservation authority reports that the area contains over 25,000 large animals including over 20 black rhinoceros, 7,000 wildebeests, 4,000 zebras, 3,000 eland and 3,000 Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles.

The crater also has the most dense known population of lions, numbering about 60. Higher up, in the rainforests of the crater rim, are leopards, about 30 large elephants, mountain reedbuck and more than 4,000 buffalos, spotted hyenas, jackals, rare wild dogs, cheetahs, and other felines.

Ngorongoro was named by the Maasai. The name is the sound produced by the cowbell (ngoro ngoro). This was mainly because they were migrating from Central Africa to settle permanently. This explains why the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is mostly occupied by the Maasai.

According to the NCA, the crater is the flagship tourism feature for the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It is a large, unbroken, un-flooded caldera, formed when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed some three million years ago. It sinks to a depth of 610 metres, with a base area covering 260 square kilometres. The height of the original volcano could have ranged between 4,500 to 5,800 metres high.

Ngorongoro Crater Safari – Tanzania, Africa Photo: Flickr: David Berkowitz

This is one of the items on Adventure Kama Safaris itineraries in Tanzania. Article was originally published by This is Africa

Must-have items for a Safari

By Safari.com

Shorts or trousers – unless you know you’re going to be somewhere really hot, trousers are probably the safest option here. They’ll protect you more from biting insects and the hot African sun, and if you wear thin trousers, you shouldn’t get too hot. Shirts and tees – Loose-fitting t-shirts are always useful, as they will protect your shoulders from the sun and keep you cool. However, it’s also a good idea to take one long-sleeved shirt with you, maybe even with incorporated insect repellent or sun protection.

Wide-brimmed hat – to keep your face and the back of your neck shaded. Sunburn can be very painful, and prolonged sun exposure, especially to the back of the neck, can lead to sunstroke – dangerous and unpleasant during your holiday!

Fleece – fleeces are lightweight and comfortable, and will help keep the chill off when night comes and the temperatures can really drop. They’re also useful for early morning game drives, when the breeze can be very bracing, and you can simply leave it in the safari vehicle or tie it around your waist when you’re not wearing it.

Sturdy boots – unless you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking, some thick-soled boots or shoes should do the job just fine. Some comfortable socks are also essential, as your feet are likely to get hot and sweaty after a day on safari!

Sunglasses – and good ones at that! Your shades should first and foremost be a form of protection for your eyes, and not a fashion accessory! You will need sunglasses with at least 99% UVB and 95% UVA protection. Cheap sunglasses can be very harmful to your eyes, so choose carefully.

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What about healthcare?

High SPF sun cream – and we mean high! Factor 50+ is the best bet, as the African sun is very strong, and even people who claim to be “used to the sun” can burn very badly, very quickly. It’s simply not worth taking the risk. Extreme sun block sticks are also useful, as they are small and light and can be applied quickly and easily to particularly sensitive areas, such as the nose and cheeks.

Insect repellent – this can be bought in spray, cream, roll-on and wipe form. For a safari, it’s useful to bring a spray for generally application at dusk and dawn, and some wipes, which can be taken out with you in your day bag. They come in very handy for reapplication – especially important if you get a bit sweaty!

Antibacterial hand soap – this is purchased in very small bottles, and is useful if you end up using the toilet facilities at road-side cafes between national parks. Soap and even functioning sinks aren’t always available, so a handy soap will help keep you hygienic.

How can I keep safe and secure?

Torch – this is always a useful safari item. Depending on the kind of accommodation you choose, and where exactly your safari is, you might need a large torch, a head torch or a mini torch. If you’re using basic camping facilities, a large torch will be a necessity. Even for those staying in tented camps or lodges, some will turn off the power at certain times of the night to conserve electricity – commendable, but not helpful during midnight toilet trips! At such times, mini torches or head torches are a blessing.

Money belt – this is the best place to keep your money, especially upon arrival in a new country, when you might have large amounts of the local currency in cash. In busy airports, or bus or ferry terminals, you will feel a lot more secure with your cash strapped to your body!

Cheap bike lock – this isn’t a necessity for everyone, but can be very useful for people planning to take long train or coach journeys in Africa. For your own peace of mind, a cheap bike lock can secure your belongings to a chair leg or arm rest, meaning you can catch some shut-eye without worrying too much – a particular blessing on longer journeys!

But what about the fun stuff!

Camera – and all the stuff that come with it! That means charger or batteries, spare memory cards (or film if you’re old school), USB cable, zoom lens, case and anything else you might need, depending on how serious you are about your photography! An adjustable tripod with grips is great for positioning your camera at awkward angles in a safari vehicle, or for a lighter option, take a small beanbag to rest your camera on.

Binoculars – definitely worth the extra weight as far as we’re concerned! Good binoculars are an investment for future holidays, as well as your safari, as often the only way to pick out tiny details is with a pair of good binoculars. On safari, you can use them for picking out tiny speck in the distance, that might turn out to be an elephant or an eland, an oryx or an ostrich, and for really taking in the details of animals that are closer by.

Bird and wildlife literature – You can use these before, during and after your safari. Leaf through your wildlife book on the plane on the way there to brief yourself. Use it whilst your on safari to pick out the difference between a Grevy’s and a plains zebra. Research in your bird book when you get home to find out what that brightly coloured bird you saw on your last day was. Guide books will really help you make the most of your safari.

Let´s Safari!
So now your are all packed up and ready to go on safari! …That is of course unless you haven’t already booked your trip. If you are looking for that expert safaris tour operator in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania or Kenya  to book your trip with, look no further than Adventure Kama Safaris. All tours our tours are private and can be fully customised down to every last detail.

We are the intersection of beauty and nature.

Uganda: Scaling the beautiful Mount Elgon

I was at the top, I could see everything, from the blue skies, to the thick blankets of white clouds gracefully floating by, and the wind blew strong but kind. I could almost still taste the Arabica brewed coffee I had sipped earlier, to the sounds of the whispering wind, interrupted by chatters of excited people posing for a group photo.

Peace! It was one of those moments you want to last forever … a gentle reminder that indeed there is a God, master and creator of an amazing place such as this.

 

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A month before

Steven Wasswa, a friend who works with Kakungulu Safaris, informed me that he would be off to climb the eighth-highest mountain in Africa, with the largest base area of any free-standing volcano in the world–Mountain Elgon.

“I had always wanted to do this,” I thought to myself. And as someone with a sports background, a month’s notice seemed fair enough. So I started a thrice-a-

week workout routine to get in shape for the challenge ahead. The day approached sooner than I anticipated, thanks to my anxiety, but now it was here and it was too late to back down now.

Thermal base clothing (temperature drops to as low as 10 degrees centigrade), check! Quick dry pants, check! Wind breaker jacket, warm sleeping bag, water bottle and of course a camera, all check!

Meeting and chocolate checkpoint 

The rendezvous point was Lugogo, UMA grounds and on the evening when I got there, I mingled with the other travellers as we waited for the rest of the group to assemble. One of the hikers kept asking about my check-list to the point of enquiring if I had packed chocolates and candy. How old did he think I was, five? I later regretted that thought when the organizers explained how the body needs quick energy boosts during the hikes.

Thankfully I managed to get hold of a packet of assorted chocolates and soon we were on our way to Sironko District where we camped in Budadiri at a little hotel near the Uganda Wild Life Authority Offices (UWA) for the night.

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Hiking Africans?

The next morning we got up early to a tasty local breakfast, buffet style of matooke and ground nuts, bread and butter, chapatti, milk, juice and coffee. The 20-member team then gathered at the UWA offices for a briefing after which we were taken to the foot of the mountain, deeper in Budadiri, where our hike begun.

We split into groups of three with the least energetic at the front to set the pace. We walked through the villages as smiling children in worn-out clothing ran to wave at us. The locals looked surprised to see us. I later gathered this was because it is usually white people that go up the mountains.

Wall of death

Mid-morning, we arrived at the wall of death. Apparently, back in the day some people are said to have died climbing up the mountain at this rock. It stared

at us as if in silent challenge, but we stood tall and matched to it like Napoleon’s soldiers to Russia. Thankfully there was a metallic sAtaircase for easier passage.

A few more hours of walking and we were in the rain/ bamboo forest. Somehow, the three groups organized earlier disintegrated into smaller ones and the stronger fellas started to lead. By 3:30 pm, we were at Sasa River camps. The cold started to set in as we set up camp for the night. We also passed time dipping in the freezing cold river for a quick bath, sharing a camp-fire dinner, chatting, and listening to music.

This routine would go on for the next two days. Along the way we sighted some monkeys, deer, birds, small cats, and Birigana Falls.

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To the peak!

The further up we went the windier it got; before we camped at Mude Cave campto prepare for our final lap up the mountain.

That final morning was colder, and I slowly sipped my Arabica brewed coffee to the

view of a breathtaking sunrise. “Almost there,” I said to myself. We set off soon after breakfast, and faced terrain that gets steeper and paradoxically more beautiful as you go up the mountain ranges above the clouds.

We would take short water breaks, and the famous chocolate now came in handy! We came across a shallow ice cold pool named Jackson’s pool. A few hours later, we walked around the jagged edge rim of one of the world’s largest calderas, measuring 40 km long and 8 km wide. On its northern side are hot springs that I have saved for my next Mt Elgon hike. And the caldera also has crater lakes that made us feel like we were in Jurassic park, except that there are no dinosaurs.

We continued on to the Wagagai peak, and finally we were at 13,852 ft (4,155 m) above sea level. I let out a heavy sigh and I have to agree… God made it and saw that it was beautiful! We took group photos, and rested, for tomorrow we would start our journey back home.

Meet the Batwa — the endangered indigenous tribe of Uganda

A sect of the Batwa in a food gathering process in the  Bwindi forests. Photo: Batwa experience

A sect of the Batwa in a food gathering process in the Bwindi forests. Photo: Batwa experience

BY ALEX TAREMWA

A Batwa legend might explain the lowly status of the people found in Uganda, eastern DRC, Rwanda and Burundi. A man, Kihanga, had three sons named Katutsi, Kahutu and Katwa. One day he called his three sons and gave each of them a gourd full of milk. On the next day, in the early morning, he asked them to give him back the gourds for him to place inside a shrine.

Katutsi brought back his gourd and it was still full of milk; Kahutu’s receptacle was only half full while Katwa’s container was completely empty. He had drunk all the milk in the night. Their father then blessed each of his three sons based on how responsible they had been with the gourds of milk. Katutsi was blessed with all his father’s cows which would help him and his children to prosper for generations. Kahutu was blessed with a hoe and seeds which would help him to grow food in his lifetime and for generations to come after him. Katwa was given the forest and all that was in it; he was to survive by hunting and gathering.

Many generations passed and their descendants multiplied. The descendants of Katutsi and Kahutu became so many that they could no longer be satisfied with what they had and ended up encroaching on Katwa’s forest. In the end, they chased Katwa’s descendants from the forest and made them live as beggars and landless people. The fate of Katwa’s descendants in the legend mirrors their situation in real life.

In 1991, the Batwa in Uganda were evicted from the forests they had lived on since time immemorial.  As a result, most were left landless and impoverished and, to survive, resorted to begging and life as labourers on other people’s land.

As in the legend, originally the Batwa were forest dwelling hunter-gatherers, living and practising their cultural and economic way of life in the high mountainous forest areas around Lake Kivu in Rwanda and Lake Edward in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa; today, the Batwa way of life, their cultural, spiritual, and social traditions, are at risk.

After food gathering, an elderly woman returns home to prepare food. Photo: Batwa Experience

The Batwa History

The Batwa are widely accepted as the first inhabitants of the region, later joined by farmers and pastoralists. The Batwa are still to be found living in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, with an estimated total population of 86,000 to 112,000.

As their traditional forested territories were destroyed by agriculturalists and pastoralists or gazetted as nature conservation areas, the Batwa were forced to abandon their traditional lifestyle based on hunting and gathering. The Batwa, sometimes derisively to as Pygmies, became squatters living on the edges of society; some were able to develop new means of survival as potters, dancers and entertainers.

The dominant ethnic groups in the region, the Bakiga and Bafumbira, perceive them as uncivilised because of their former hunter-gatherer lifestyle which has led to their discrimination and marginalisation from the mainstream economy. Notwithstanding the numerous problems faced by the Batwa, they continue to value their forest based social system, culture, and traditional practices as an important part of their identity.

This existence on the margins continues to this day. For instance, their customary rights to land have not been recognised and they have received little or no compensation for their losses. The Ugandan constitution provides for the protection of the rights of minorities, yet the situation that the Batwa are living in clearly indicates that their rights are being systematically violated. For example they not only lack access to the health services offered to other Ugandans by the government but also lack access to clean water, shelter, and food.

Not surprisingly, the Batwa have a high HIV prevalence but access to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for the Batwa is very hard. Not only do they have to walk for five kilometres (a long distance if you are terminally ill) and more to access them, but even when they reach the health centres, they are often segregated against by everyone, including the health care providers.

Accurate figures are difficult to determine and estimates vary, but the 2015 housing and population census showed that approximately 6,700 Batwa lived within the state of Uganda. They are mainly found in the south-west region in the districts of Kisoro, Kanungu, Kabale, Mbarara, Ntungamo and Lwengo (Katovu township).

An elderly Mutwa climbing a tree to harvest honey. Photo: Batwa Experience.

Not only is the discrimination institutional, it also extends to the social and quotidian. The Batwa are seen as backward and childish, incapable of speaking or representing themselves (the only minority group not represented in parliament). They are presumed to be thieves and are considered dirty, ignorant and immoral. Often they are not allowed to draw water from a communal well, and intermarriage with other ethnic groups is frowned upon.

Faced with all these prejudices, the formation of a Batwa advocacy group was long overdue. So In 2000,the Batwa formed United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU), an organisation which has mainly fought the dispossession of the Batwa from their ancestral land.

After the park creation in 1991, 82 percent of Batwa were left entirely landless, living either as squatters on private, government or church land. In 2004, 44 percent of Batwa had no land on which to build a hut. Data collected in 2007 by UOBDU show that the landless in Kisoro represent 50.4 percent, in Kabale 61.4 percent, in Kanungu 20.9 percent, while all of the households in Mbarara, Katovu and Ntungamo are landless.

The organisation has argued in the courts that the land for the national parks was unlawfully seized from the indigenous people, but the case is yet to be resolved.

Through UOBDU, the Batwa are fighting to secure land rights, the right to education and literacy, sustainable livelihoods, improved healthcare, and institutional development, says Elias Habyar’imana, the Chairperson of the Kisoro based NGO. To supplement all these efforts, their plight received international attention in 2014, when the Oscar-nominated documentary Virunga came out, exposing the existential threat they face.

The Batwa case before the Constitutional Court

On February 8, 2013, the Batwa of Uganda submitted a petition to the Constitutional Court of Uganda seeking recognition of their status as indigenous peoples under international law and redress for the historic marginalisation, dispossession and the human rights violations perpetrated against them. As I write this, the petition to the Constitutional Court of Uganda involving the Attorney General, the National Forest Authority and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is yet to be heard in court.

The central issue for the Batwa is their land. To date, the revenues and employment opportunities arising from governmental exploitation of protected areas have not benefited the Batwa. Revenues generated from activities now taking place on the Batwa’s ancestral lands should go into a public purse. However, the Batwa have not seen any of these revenues.

Hunting was the primary source of food for the Batwa. Photo: Batwa Experience

While the courts drag their feet, the Batwa communities continue to suffer violence and discrimination from neighbouring ethnic groups. On Sunday June 7, 2014, Batwa communities in Ryabitukuru, Kisoro District, had their homes burned.

Out of the 14 households in the community, 13 were targeted, leaving many families destitute and homeless. The Batwa households are scattered over a large area of land, yet it took the violent mob only two hours to move from house to house.

Fearing for their lives, the Batwa fled to the Rubuguri Police Post for security. Because the post was small, the Batwa were shifted from there to an NGO building. It is from there that well wishers, including NGOs like UOBDU and Red Cross, have provided them with food, water, utensils, blankets and other amenities.

The Batwa Culture, Language and Livelihood

The Batwa are seen as shy, loyal to the traditional practices which define them as a forest people. Their Practices include hunting and gathering forest resources, eating uncooked food, worshipping gods in the forest, sleeping in caves, guiding forest researchers and tourists, dressing in leaves and animal skins, making fire using dry sticks. Caves, hot springs, rivers, hills, plants and animals are of special significance in their worldview.

The forests are a source of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being and before they were gazetted as national parks, the Batwa depended on forest resources for food, medicine, basketry, firewood, marketable items, house construction, tools, rituals, hunting and recreation.

During our interactions, the Batwa spoke fondly about their culture. Jovanisi Nyinakayanje, 42, who was born and raised in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, spoke about knowing nothing else except these conditions: “I was born in the forest of Bwindi and spent about ten years there. My father used to go hunting and leave us with our mother who would go with us to collect fire wood (udukwi) and food (ibyokurya). Outside our home, we had a small hut for worshipping (uguterekerera) which was mainly done by our father who would sacrifice to the gods before and after hunting.”

After food gathering, an elderly woman returns home to prepare food. Photo: Batwa Experience

“When they chased us from the forest, we started living here in Rushaga. We would go back to the forest to look for meat, honey, wild yams, firewood, weaving materials and medicinal plants. But later, we were told to stop going back to the forest. Many of our people died. We tried hard to survive in the challenging village conditions by begging for food from Bakiga,” she spoke in her mother tongue as George Wilson Mpakasihe translated.

Reminiscing about growing up, Steven Serutoke, a guide on the Garama Batwa trail in Mgahinga, said, “When I was a little child, I used to see my parents going to the forest. They used to tell us nice stories about the forest. They told us how they used to eat honey and meat from the forest. They also told us that they used to shift to many places including Rwanda, Burundi and Congo especially when they had conflicts and when food became scarce.”

Housing and Burial arrangements

Traditionally, the Batwa had three main types of houses: caves, omuririmbo and ichuro. The caves and omuririmbo were the main houses where Batwa lived. Ichuro was used for resting and storing food including meat, honey, beans and sorghum, all of which in makeshift grass thatched round huts that can accommodate about five people at a time.

The Batwa also had a special way of burying the dead. When a Mutwa died, he or she would be buried in a hut after digging a small hole and wrapping the corpse in grass. The burial ceremony involved cleansing the corpse with herbs such as omuhanga (Maesa lanceolata), enkyerere (Rubus sp.), and omufumba (Rhumex sp).

The Batwa elders would lead the burial ceremony and encourage all the family members to drink herbal extracts as a way of preventing death from claiming more people from that family. After burial, they would migrate to a far off place and never return.

Marriage customs

According to Batwa customs, a Mutwa can not marry a non-Mutwa and getting pregnant before marriage was forbidden. Marriage was arranged by the parents. The parents of a Mutwa boy would admire qualities in a certain Mutwa girl and decide that she was the right partner for their son. They would then visit the girl’s family carrying gifts which included pots of honey from stingless bees, beer brewed with honey and roast meat.

During the visit, they would negotiate the dowry to be paid to the girl’s family and the date for the ‘give-away’ ceremony. On the day of ‘giving away’ the girl, the groom would bring many gifts for the bride and her family. Such gifts included beads, new and well-oiled animal skins, roast meat, elephant tusks, honey from stingless bees, beer brewed with honey and sometimes hunting dogs.

The groom would take the bride to his home and then live together while receiving advice from the groom’s parents. After some time, the young family would later migrate to a distant place to establish their new and independent home. When the woman became pregnant, she would be fed on meat, honey and vegetables and would drink many kinds of herbs for boosting her health and that of the unborn baby.

At the time of giving birth, she would be helped by other women who would use pieces of bamboo to cut the umbilical cord. The baby would be wrapped in clean animal skins and brought near a fire place for warmth.

This way of living is under threat or has already vanished. The Uganda Wildlife Authority continues to make millions from tourism annually on their land. For three decades, the Batwa have been struggling to have their rights recognised. The legal case is unlikely to succeed, so the Batwa remain stuck in a legal limbo with unpromising prospects.

This article was originally published in This is Africa (TIA), a leading forum for African opinion, arts and music

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