Uganda is preparing the ground to market the country as birding destination in Africa for bird watchers.
Boasting the largest number and diversity of bird species in Africa – 1,065 on last count, the birds are spread across the country in forests, swamps, savannah grasslands, marshes and along water ways.
A tourist here on a birding safari will view birds from the moment they alight from their flight in Entebbe to Kidepo Valley National Park, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to Queen Elizabeth National Park, Mabamba Shoebill swamp, Murchison Falls National Park etc.
What is curious though is that Uganda – a potential birders’ Mecca, has barely marketed birding to the major source markets like the US, Britain and Australia.
Last week, a group of 53 bird guides were passed out by the Uganda Tourism Board CEO, Mr. Stephen Asiimwe to bring the number of professional bird guides in the country to 130. Of the 53 who attended the training in Kibale Forest National Park, 13 were women. Asiimwe reminded the guides to stay disciplined and professional when guiding tourists who visit to view the birds.
He said bad hospitality due to factors like indiscipline and a lack of professionalism leads to negative referrals given that more than 50 percent of tourists who come to Ugandan are a result of referrals.
According to Asiimwe, birding is a goldmine and assured the guides that they stand to make a lot of money. He said UTB is set to market Uganda as a birding destination as little attention has been paid to the activity because of a lack of professional birding guides.
The two-week birding training was sponsored by the Uganda Tourism Board, United Nations Development Fund and conducted by the Uganda Safari Guides Association.
Latest data from the Bank of Uganda has showed that tourism fetched Uganda US$1.4 billion in forex earnings, up from $1.1 billion last year. As it is, tourism has overtaken the traditional exports of coffee and fish as the biggest foreign exchange earner.
Timothy Kintu Magambo, one of the graduates said that over the two weeks, they learnt about ornithology, which is the study of birds.
“We have learnt various skills of birding ecology. The various habitats, flight actions, feeding habits, species, how to bird on foot, in a car, using a boat and at night,” said Magambo.
The guides learnt about the origin, evolution and ecology in birding, behaviour of birds, birds that are nearing extinction, parasitic birds and migratory birds.
He said they were educated on how birds do co-exist with abiotic and biotic ways, various characteristics of birds, nesting behavior, how birds interdepend on one another, presentation and communication skills and paying attention to bird details and observation skills. Magambo however pointed out that they lack birding equipment’s ranging from binoculars, field guide books, wish lists and pointers.
Herbert Byaruhanga, the president of Uganda Safari Guides Association said they received over 85 applicants for the course but could only take a given number. He advised that Uganda must go into specific tourism product marketing with birding as one of them.
He said the level of education in birding has increased what with over 130 well trained professional bird guides today.