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Africa’s Big Birding Day breaks records and scores big for tourism

Africa’s Big Birding Day breaks records and scores big for tourism

The results of the recently-concluded Big Birding Day are out with exciting news in bird news circles that Uganda produced the highest score of any birding exercise expo, recording 768 bird species. This was revealed by the Chief Executive Officer of the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), Dr. Stephen Asiimwe, at the inaugural Africa Birding Expo that took place at the Entebbe Botanical Gardens last weekend.

The onus of announcing the results was given to Nature Uganda represented by Mirembe Judith who is also President of the Women Birders Association. She announced that the 311 participants managed to record 768 species. They were categorized according to those covering protected areas and those outside protected areas.

In the protected areas, Queen Elizabeth recorded the highest with 372 species, Mount Elgon at 285 species, and Murchison Falls National Park with 233. Outside protected areas included Masaka which recorded the highest with 155, Mabamba swamp at 128, followed by Lutembe Bay with 111 species. Other special categories were the international birders and outstanding young birders between the ages of 5 to 10 years of age.

Asiimwe said that last year, the Government of Uganda took a pragmatic decision to make the country become a converging zone for all birders worldwide by organizing and sponsoring the event. To this end,   several international birders, writers, and bloggers were hosted around the country from Mabamba Ramsar Site, Lake Mburo, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Kibale Forest, and Murchison Falls National Parks before converging at the Botanical Gardens with a colorful bird-themed carnivore procession from Nkumba University to Entebbe town. Since the Big Birding Day started in 2009 when only 386 species were recorded, the bird count has doubled, he added.

He welcomed the international visitors on behalf of the country who had traveled from as far as Europe and North America as well as World Bank for co-sponsoring the event, Uganda Safari Guides Association (USAGA) for their efforts in promoting birding as well as the Mayor of Entebbe and the Botanical Gardens for hosting the event. Also present was Dr. Stephen Gwoktcho, a celebrated artist from Makerere University, whose imposing  paintings were featured at the expo; representatives from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda Wildlife Education Center, Nature Uganda, Entebbe Tourist Association; and World Bank exhibitors including tour operators, crafters, publishers, and representatives from Rwanda Tourism Bird Guides.

Dr. Asiimwe expressed UTB’s commitment to supporting the promotion of tourism, training of the youth, and conservation of nature. “We are privileged that Uganda  is home to 50% of birding species contributing to 10% of the GDP and the highest foreign exchange earner for the country at 23%,” he said.

He also encouraged visitors to take advantage of the East Africa 90-day tourist visa for Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda, saying: “Birds don’t have borders. I wish we could all be birds. There is a first impression and a lasting impression, the most important is the lasting impression. Go back with a lasting impression and please come back.” He also appealed to the youth to join birding clinics and excursions, as well as media to promote the event.

Visitors were ecstatic in their compliments of their experience. Said Hugh Powel, representing Cornelle University lab, Clement checklist, and e-bird: “In the eleven days from Murchison Falls to Lake Mburo, it was an unforgettable experience seeing bee eaters, [and] seeing the incredible shoebill made an impression on every one of us, including experiencing national species, particularly the gorillas in Bwindi and chimps in Kibale. As an American, we see these animals in zoos, but now we see them in great expanses roaming freely.” He thanked Johnnie Kamugisha for being a fantastic tour guide for spotting birds that they would have missed.

Laura Kamamaya, and international writer and television host, said they were impressed with the country lodges and guides. “We saw 440 species of birds [and] mammals. Seeing the shoebill after several hours was an incredible experience, as the green breasted pitta in Kibale is one of the most sought after.” She stressed the importance of preserving the incredible natural reserves in Uganda. “It means so much to us, because we believe in nature and understand the importance of preserving it. We shall put it on social media. We shall write about it in magazines and blogs.”

The mayor reflected on a bygone era in conservation saying that in his days it was illegal to cut a tree without permission from the town clerk. The wisdom behind that was that Entebbe had to be preserved as a bird sanctuary.

He made an appeal to Ugandans to embark on tree-planting drives. “We are facing effects of climate change; if we don’t wake up, we shall face the music,” he said. He asked visitors to be ambassadors of Uganda and encourage others to experience nature in its splendor in this country.

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