Tag Archives: Uganda

Giraffe – the gentle giants facing an uncertain future

With their long eyelashes and graceful gait, giraffe are an iconic symbol of Africa. It is impossible to imagine an African
landscape without them.

However in recent years giraffe have seen a decline in numbers. Two sub species, Nubian and Kordofan, are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List.

In 2018 our conservation campaign Explorers against Extinction supported a project in Garamba National Park, DRC.  Garamba is home to one of these giraffe sub species – the Kordofan giraffe. The working dogs programme we assisted African Parks to establish in Garamba is helping the rangers to protect not only elephant but also the Kordofan giraffe.

This year we are partnering with Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF),  the only NGO in the world that concentrates solely on the conservation and management of giraffe. Our aim is to raise awareness about the plight of giraffe while also directly contributing to the conservation of the Nubian giraffe.

We want to cover the cost of moving a pair of Nubian Giraffe from Murchison Falls to Pian Upe, Uganda. This pair will be part of a group of 15 or so giraffe making the move from Murchison Falls. It is hoped  the group will go on to establish a viable, free-ranging population. Find out more about this project here.

WGDIn the first of a two-part blog celebrating World Giraffe Day on Friday 21 June, we take a closer look at the different species and the threats facing them.

Statistics

In the 1980s, the total number of giraffe in Africa was estimated at more than 155,000 individuals.

Today, GCF estimates the current Africa-wide giraffe population at approximately 111,000 individuals.

This is a drop by almost 30%. Unfortunately, in some areas traditionally regarded as prime giraffe habitat, numbers have dropped by 95% in the same period.

DSC_0353Threats

The combined impacts of habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, habitat degradation, human population growth, poaching, disease, war and civil unrest threaten the remaining giraffe numbers and their distribution throughout Africa.

Many threats arise from direct, indirect or perceived competition for resources with humans, their livestock and agricultural land. Habitat degradation and destruction is caused by an increasing human demand for agricultural land, pastoralism, and uncontrolled timber and fuel-wood harvesting.

Human-giraffe conflict can develop due to crop loss and damage, and potential disease transmission can result from habitat sharing with domestic livestock. Sadly, giraffe outside protected areas are sometimes also struck by vehicles and trains.

The fragmentation and loss of giraffe habitat caused by human encroachment often leads to the isolation of giraffe populations which, in turn, limits the flow and exchange of genetic diversity between populations.

Although there is very little evidence of species interbreeding in the wild, the translocation of one species of giraffe to an area already occupied by a different species could create the risk of hybridisation. Should they interbreed, the genetic uniqueness of each individual species would be lost.

Sw Giraffe DSC_6263Species

Giraffe occur in 21 countries in Africa. While the IUCN Red List currently recognises one species of giraffe and nine subspecies, new findings by GCF and partners clearly show four species and five confirmed subspecies of giraffe:

 

  • Masai (35,000): further studies required to see if Thornicroft giraffe is genetically identical to Masai giraffe, or a distinct sub species
  • Northern (5,600): Kordofan (2,000); Nubian (Rothschild’s giraffe has been identified as genetically identical to Nubian giraffe) (3,000); West African (600)
  • Reticulated (15,780)
  • Southern (54,750): Angolan (17,750); Southern African (37,000)

This updated species information is currently under further review and will hopefully soon be taken into consideration by the IUCN for future conservation assessments, giving each giraffe their own taxonomical status and mandate for increased conservation.

boma2Focus on Nubian Giraffe

At present, fewer than 200 Nubian Giraffe occur in western Ethiopia, 450 in eastern South Sudan, 800 in Kenya, and more than 1,550 in Uganda.

Based on the rate of decline, estimated at 95% in the last three decades, Nubian giraffe were, for the first time, added to the IUCN Red List and listed as Critically Endangered in 2018.

In 2010, the formerly known Rothschild’s subspecies was classified as Endangered and of high conservation importance on the IUCN Red List, but based on good conservation efforts of governments and partners, including GCF, the Rothschild’s giraffe was downlisted to Near Threatened as populations and numbers have increased. Once the IUCN recognises the two subspecies as one, the conservation status on the IUCN Red List for Nubian giraffe as a whole will most likely remain Critically Endangered, indicating an urgent need for increased conservation measures.

The Nubian giraffe’s patches are large, rectangular and chestnut-brown. The patches are surrounded by an off-white, creamy colour. There are no markings on their lower legs.

Statistics sourced from Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

Sunset DSC_8682

  • Did you know? The word giraffe is believed to come from the Arab word zarafa, which means fast walker.

 

 

Giraffing Around: 4 species, 4 ways.
Some of the best places to see Giraffe.
1.See Reticulated Giraffe in Samburu, Kenya, one of Samburu’s ‘Special Five’ (Reticulated Giraffe, Beisa Oryx, Somali Ostrich, Gerenuk and Grevy’s Zebra). You’ll also find Samburu’s famous herds of elephants here, usually by the river. Of course, if you’re visiting Kenya and love giraffe, don’t miss a visit to the AFEW Giraffe Centre in Karen, Nairobi where you can learn about efforts to save another species – the Nubian (Rothschild’s Giraffe) where you can feed them from a special platform. Next door you’ll find the famous Giraffe Manor hotel – find out more here.
2.See beautiful Nubian Giraffe (Rothschild’s), a sub species of Northern Giraffe at Murchison Falls, in Uganda – this is a giraffe conservation hot spot with the population increasing eightfold over 20 years – a fabulous success story.
3.Southern Africa’s giraffe population has nearly doubled in the past 20 years thanks to concerted conservation efforts – Etosha in Namibia is one of the best places to observe Southern Giraffe alongside big cats, rhino and elephant.
4.See huge herds of Masai giraffe against a Serengeti sunset in Tanzania. The giraffe is Tanzania’s national animal and both Tarangire and the Serengeti offer excellent opportunity to observe them.

 

 

Where to see gorillas in Africa: Rwanda vs. Uganda

For those who have already been on safari across East or Southern Africa and are looking to return to Africa then perhaps Uganda or Rwanda could be just the thing. Africa is such a huge continent with so many different countries to visit and so many different things to do, it can be very hard to narrow it down. Uganda and Rwanda are not the first places to spring to mind but they are actually both fabulous places to visit with stunning scenery, warm welcoming people and incredible wildlife. They are to be found inland in central eastern Africa to the west of Kenya and Tanzania respectively. Uganda is the larger of the two and it shares its southern border with the enormous Lake Victoria whilst Rwanda is much smaller and tiny in comparison to most African nations.

Scenery

The scenery in this part of the world is stunning. This area is known as the Great Lakes area and it is full of lakes and rivers that stem from the volcanic mountain range than runs across Uganda and Rwanda. It is here that the majestic river Nile starts its journey across Africa and en route it squeezes in dramatic fashion through a narrow cleft before pouring out at the stunning Murchison Falls. Uganda is very green and lush due to high rainfall and a warm equatorial climate all year round. Much of it is farmed but it also boasts stunning natural beauty everywhere you go. Much of it is protected national park including the Queen Elizabeth National Park and Bwindi National Park.

Rwanda is much more mountainous with high mountain peaks in the west and more traditional African savannah to the east where it borders Tanzania. Rwanda has three important National Parks; Volcanoes, Akagera and Nyungwe. The naturally occurring rainforest in Rwanda is protected in the parks which is important as a lot of Rwanda’s naturally fertile land is taken up with coffee plantations and subsistence farming. The most famous of the national parks is the Volcanoes which is home to an estimated one third of the remaining worldwide mountain gorilla population.Rwanda’s mountainous scenery forms part of the Great Rift Valley which runs through East  Africa and creates some of its most impressive scenery. In this part of Rwanda you can find the Virunga volcano range which includes the highest peak of Mount Karisimbiat 14,787 feet.  Some of the volcanoes in the area are still active and attract volcano fans and scientists alike.

Wildlife

Tourism is a vital source of income to both Uganda and Rwanda and both countries have shared a troubled past. But now they are both well on the way to recovery and have opened up their doors to visitors. In fact this part of the world is one of the friendliest and warmest you can come across. Most of the tourism income in both countries comes from visiting the unique wildlife in this part of the world. Rwanda along with Uganda is one of the only two countries in the world where visitors can see the endangered mountain gorillas. Gorilla tracking permit prices are high in order to keep numbers down and the money from the permits and the national parks goes back into the local villages in order to feed them and also educate them on the importance of the wildlife.  The best place to visit the endangered mountain gorilla is the Bwindi National Park in Uganda. This remaining population of around 335 gorillas is home to nearly half of all known mountain gorillas. Gorilla trekking is not for the faint hearted as the terrain here is very challenging with miles of deep forest and steep uphill hiking. It can take up to 5 hours of solid hiking to find a gorilla group and then of course you have to hike your way home again. Visiting the gorillas is very strictly monitored and numbers are kept down and even when you do see the gorillas you are only allowed a maximum of one hour with them so as not to disturb them.

You can also visit mountain gorillas in Rwanda in the beautiful Volcanoes National Park where permits and visits are run along similar lines to those in Uganda. In fact many people combine the two. But there are also other primates in this area that are worth visiting such as the famous chimpanzee colonies. You can visit Kibale National Park to visit them – again you must obtain a permit first and travel with an organised group and time is limited to an hour in order not to disturb them.
If you are looking for more typically African game then you can enjoy a safari in Uganda in the Queen Elizabeth National Park where you can enjoy spotting the Big Five whilst on safari including lions, leopards, elephant and buffalo. This national park is a very large reserve, in between Lake George and Lake Edwards and as such offers the unusual chance to go on safari by boat! The Kazinga Channel connects the two lakes and is home to lots of hippos.

Lily in Uganda – Arrival Day

Our erstwhile globetrotter Lily has been off on her travels again. This time she is visiting Uganda to visit the Mountain Gorillas. We will be following her travels over the next few weeks as she explores this beautiful country in Central Africa.

Day 1

Not the best day I have ever had as my flight to Dubai was delayed meaning I had to overnight in Dubai instead of catching my connecting flight to Entebbe in Uganda. However saying that the flight was smooth, the transit night in Dubai was well organised by Emirates and overall it wasn’t too painful!

Day 2

I left Dubai finally and caught the morning flight to Entebbe a day later than planned. The flight is only 3hrs 30 mins and the Emirates flight was once again very smooth with plenty of entertainment available and excellent staff. On arrival in Entebbe at lunch time the temperature was a hot and sticky 79 degrees – a bit different from temps in Cumbria this week! I caught the airport bus to the terminal where I was met by our local representative Christine. I then queued for the entry visa which is $50 USD. Please note that in Uganda if you are paying in US dollars make sure that the dollars are in good condition as they will be rejected otherwise. This is across Uganda!

I then met Francine from the agency who escorted me to my first destination. This was my first time in Uganda since 1995 and I was really looking forward to seeing if it had changed at all since then. My first hotel was the Banana Village Hotel which is about 20 minutes from the airport and half way to Kampala the capital city of Uganda. It is a good starting point as it doesn’t involve a long transfer after a long enough journey to get here. The hotel was down a dirt road track and I was surprised by how bright the red earth is here. The Banana Village has 6 simple rondavel style semi detached cottages which are functional but basic (3*). They have tiled showers with a small sink and loo in the bathrooms and a double Zanzibar style bed and comfortable chair in the room. The rondavels are situated in lush green lawns with some cheeky vervet monkeys to keep you company! The staff were very warm and welcoming and made us feel right at home. I think however that we will be looking to use a higher standard of accommodation on our client’s tours but for me this was more than adequate!

At supper time I met up with some of the other people on the fam trip with me; there were tour operators and travel agents from Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. We had dinner with our local agency director Joan who I really enjoyed meeting. We ate some typically Ugandan fare of chicken and beef with peanut sauce with rice and potatoes which I enjoyed.

Day 3

It was an early start this morning as we had a very long day on the road to look forward to. We departed at 6am after breakfast into our seven seater Landrover. Our destination was south west Uganda and the world famous Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.We were driving from Entebbe via Kampala, Masaka, Mbarara and Ishaka to the Queen Elizabeth National Park before heading south to the Ishaha sector and Buhoma just outside Bwindi.

It would take us 12 hours to reach our hotel Mahogany Springs but the journey was fascinating and I gained such an insight into this country en route. The main Kampala to Masaka road is a tarmaced fast road with lots and lots of traffic weaving in and out and lined with shops especially mobile phone shops! There were people on bikes, mopeds, buses, tractors, lorries, cars, on foot…. everywhere was a hive of activity. In between the towns the land was lush and fertile with farmed fields, swamps and forest as well as a flower plantation. There were also lots of little shacks run as small businesses with great names which kept me amused.

We arrived at the Equator at 9am where we stopped for some photos and the matchstick in the water test! We then continued on through rolling hills and lush banana plantations. Thankfully the roads are in excellent condition making our journey relatively comfortable. The countryside flattens out towards Mabarara and I saw lots of cattle grazing the flatter grasslands. These cattle are Ankole who have huge horns and are very sought after.

By passed Masaka heading south west on an excellent road towards Mbarara fact, the roads in general are much better than I remember from my previous visit in 1995.  Still patchy in places but far fewer hazards than I remember!

Mbarara town is the first major town we passed through (about 300kms from Kampala) and it is the epicentre of the old Kingom of Ankole which was broken up after independence.  As we entered Mbarara, we were greeted on a roundabout by a statue of an Ankole bullock with impressive horns. We stopped for lunch in Mbarara at a local restaurant.  I had a pot of delicious Ugandan ginger tea and a toasted sandwich with chips.  The whole lot came to $7 which I thought very reasonable.

Mbarara is the crossroads for traffic and travellers heading towards the Queen Elizabeth National Park, Lake Mburo, Rwenzori Mountains in the north east and Kabale in the south west (for Bwindi etc).  From Mbarara the country then seemed to get hillier, particularly after Busheni. The road started going up and down through forested hills before it reached the escarpment down to the Great Rift Valley.

Mid afternoon we pulled into a viewing point and Francine announced that we were looking at  was Lake Edward, the Kasinga Channel, Lake George and the Queen Elizabeth National Park! It was a truly fantastic view indeed! After having some time to stretch our legs and take pictures we drove off the escarpment heading for QENP and acacia country before turning south and passing the sign for Mweya Lodge. We didn’t have to pay park fees as we were just passing through but even so we were lucky to see three elephants very near to the road. One of my fellow passengers was very excited as it was her first visit to Africa and her very first elephant sighting.  We also saw some Olive baboon families as well.  It felt good to be back in familiar safari country.  We took about 3 hours to drive through the QE National Park as the road is a bit rough but it made for a good game drive. We were very surprised as we crossed over a river bridge to see there were about ten men swimming in the river… they must have known it was a croc/hippo NO GO area??! We continued our journey southwards through beautiful countryside with mountainous scenery and forests of fir trees, surprising for being near to the Equator.  As we passed through villages we watched cattle herds being guided back to the village for the night and I did enjoy seeing all the school children walking home from school in their attractive (and spotless!) uniforms. The local people watched us as we travelled through their country and I think they were as intrigued by us as we were by them! The landscape is so lush and green and we passed numerous scenic deep valley and glorious views of lakes and distant mountains. We finally reached Bwindi at 7pm that night. Phew, that was a long drive!

Posted by Lily

The Mountain Gorillas of Central Africa

The very rare and endangered Mountain Gorilla can be found in the heavily forested and mountainous areas of Central Africa; chiefly the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. They live in the volcanic mountains of Central Africa in protected national parks. In south-west Uganda they can be found in the Bwindi National Park, in Rwanda in the Volcanoes National Park and in the DRC they live in Virunga National Park.

The mountain gorilla inhabits the forested slopes of the volcanoes in Central Africa which range in altitude from 7,200–14,100 ft.  The volcanoes have created a fantastically lush vegetation which is very dense at the bottom of the mountains, becoming more sparse at higher elevations. It provides the perfect environment for these elusive creatures. The cloud forests where the mountain gorilla lives are often cloudy, misty and cold so they have evolved with thicker fur than their lowland cousins and are classed as a separate sub-species.

Although amazingly strong and muscular the mountain gorilla is actually a very gentle and shy animal. They are herbivores and the vast majority of its diet is made up of leaves, shoots and stems, as well as fruit, bark and insects. They need to eat all day long in order to consume enough calories to survive as they are large muscular animals. A male can eat up to as much as 30 kilos in food a day and this is their predominant activity. The other activities they spend a lot of time doing are sleeping and socialising during their lunchtime rest period. These creatures are wonderfully sociable and they live in secure and stable social groups. They show strong bonds between the male and females gorillas and strong attachment to their young. The lead adult male is the silverback who is the dominant male and he will defend his group above all else.  He will eventually be challenged by a younger stronger male and retire to the edges of the group or leave for another one. The gorillas are not territorial and move around areas in search of food.

The mountain gorilla is one of the most endangered animals on the planet. The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is listed as endangered on the official IUCN Red List which means that it has suffered more than a 50% reduction in population over the last 3 generations. At the last count in the spring of 2010, the estimated total number of mountain gorillas worldwide was just 790. The gorillas of Central Africa suffer from many threats including loss of habitation due to agriculture and logging, pollution, civil unrest and trafficking for the illegal pet trade.

There are many active organisations seeking to conserve the mountain gorillas of Central Africa. Dian Fossey was a leading conservationist who spent most of her adult life in close contact with the gorillas researching them and protecting them. The story of her life can be seen in the film “Gorillas in the Mist”. She and many other conservationists helped to turn these vital cloud forest areas into the protected national parks across the three nations and in doing so preserved their precious and unique habitat. The World Wildlife Fund and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme are the two main leaders in gorilla conservation at the moment

Suprisingly tourism is also fundamental in helping protect this rare species. After land was taken away from local people and turned into protected national parks some kind of recompense was needed to ensure that local people remained in favour of helping the conservation scheme. Limited tourism to visit the gorillas under strict permit schemes has successfully managed to bring a lot of income into the very poor neighbouring areas.  In 2008 roughly 20,000 tourists visited the gorilla populations in Rwanda which is turn raised approximately $8 million in revenue for the parks. The other national parks are also benefiting from large tourism revenue streams which cover the park costs and the wildlife authority in charge of protecting the gorillas. The park rangers that guide the tourists also are able to look after the gorillas as they are in closer contact with them, spotting any snare injuries or other health problems. They can also monitor numbers and hopefully divert any potential threats.

Guide to Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Inpenetrable Forest, Uganda

Gorilla at Bwindi inpenetrable forest, Uganda

Trekking to see mountain gorillas is one of the natural world’s greatest privileges. This endangered species has been brought back from the brink of extinction and while its numbers in the wild are still counted in the hundreds rather than the tens of thousands it is stable and growing.

Video of Gorilla visit in Bwindi Inpenetrable Forest, Uganda

Bwindi Inpenetrable Forest, situated in the south-west corner of Uganda, is home to over half of total remaining gorillas. It gets its name for a reason. It is an untamed tropical jungle, a thick canopy blots out the sun and thick foliage makes any trek a real challenge. Throw in the fact that the terrain is hilly – indeed bordering on the mountainous – and you will want to make sure you’re fit before you go to get the most out of it.

The first task is to get a permit. Access to the various gorilla groups is restricted to a handful of permits per group per day so as to not to worry the gorillas. A one day permit costs (Spring 2011) US$ 750 per person. For this you get a maximum of 1 hour with them, assuming that you find them which is not a given. The day our video was taken it took nearly 4 hours of hard trekking to locate and catch up with them. And when they decide to move on, they move fast.

At the Park HQ you are briefed about how to behave – no closer than 10 metres, cover your mouth if you sneeze, if the silverback charges stand still (!). You then head off with your guides and porters (who can be hired for a few US$ at the centre).

The walk-in goes through areas of cultivation before entering the jungle itself, sometimes on small trails, mostly not.

Nothing prepared you for your first glimpse. They appear through the undergrowth and after the silverback has allowed you to stay by either ignoring you or mounting a dummy charge to establish authority, they relax and behave normally. Grooming, relaxing and plenty of eating. In fact sometimes it’s hard to work out exactly who is watching who!

Better to watch than to read, watch our gorilla video here to see just how special such a trip is. Sometimes they come up to you, brushing past or for a better look. They are memories you’ll never forget.