For many years, Uganda had suffered from the lack of recognized trained Bird Guides. This made Uganda an unpopular destination to many who would be interested in Birding. However, the stakes have since changed with the continued training of bird guides. The recognition of Bird Guides is seen by many as the first tremendous success of the Ugandan tourism industry in the effort to offer quality bird guiding.
Uganda Safari Guides Association (USAGA) recently received support from United Nations Development Program (UNDP) through Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) to train bird guides in Uganda. This was in line with the preparations for the Birding Big Day scheduled for Nov 28th and as well as preparations for the licensing process. It is a legal requirement that all guides must acquire licenses before they guide tourists.
The training that began on September 8th at Makerere University Biological Field Station, Kanyawara, Kibale Forest ended yesterday with participants being awarded certificates. The participants got a good balance of practical outdoor birding together with class-based teaching covering subjects such as bird identification techniques, study of trees and shrubs, bird behavior, mist nesting, how to handle bird watchers and to stimulate further interest in birds and birding.
Speaking at the closing ceremony, Stephen Asiimwe the Chief Executive Officer UTB said more resources would be put in birding and to start with the Birding Big day due in November this year would get UTB’s full support.
“Behind every vision is a visionary”, Stephen went on to thank Herbert Byaruhanga and the participants that had braved the two weeks training. He promised to help lobby for birding equipment.
“Don’t be in a hurry to compete but be in a hurry to cooperate” Stephen added.
Herbert Byaruhanga, the brain behind the training noted that Uganda needed guides across the board. He added that the short courses being conducted were cutting across culture, mammals, defensive driving and not only for birding.
“A good guide is an investment to the country and can translate into income for Uganda” Herbert requested UTB to list the trained bird guides on UTBs website.
“There are so many birders who don’t know of Uganda as a big birding destination simply because we have not been coming out to appreciate birds as a business, Herbert added.
Birdlife International, a global programme on conservation of birds indicates that there are 34 important bird areas in Uganda with diverse bird species. The country, however, faces challenges, especially on conversation.
Under a recently launched new set of regulations, it will become mandatory for tour guides in Uganda to register and get licensed by Uganda Tourism Board. The measure is expected to come into effect early 2015, which is meant to improve the quality of our guides and make them more professional.
“Right now, you can find certain tours where the tourists know more about birds than the driver or bird guide does. So if we improve that part, our tourists will know that Uganda was worth visiting not only for the parks and all, but for the experience and competence of all the staff they were in contact with during a visit” observed Bonifence Byamukama a Board Member at Uganda Wildlife Authority.
Byamukama added, “I see guides as value addition to UWA’s overall goal of conserving for future generations”. He promised to continue lobbying for the guides to enter the parks more particularly for training purposes.
Muzahura Edwin – marketing Manager UTB on his part, said that birding was an integral part of tourism in Uganda. He made reference to a recent road show UTB participated in the USA where many potential tourists were interested in birding tours.
He added, “You can have a plane, fuel it, but if it had no pilot then it would be as good as dead” and that’s why UTB believed that trained professional guides were very important.
In his conclusive remarks, Herbert Byaruhanga who doubles as USAGA chairman and President of Uganda Tourism Association noted that the training was timely as the Big Birding day in November 2014 was getting close.
The Birding Big day is a day when bird watching enthusiasts will come together to celebrate Uganda’s famous bird species whose population is said to be one of the highest in Africa. The country, which is the size of UK, boasts of over 1,062 bird species, which is 11% of the global and 50% of Africa’s bird species.
The African Bird Club ranks Uganda as home to two of the top 10 birding sites on the continent – with Bwindi Impenetrable Forest national park ranking number one and Murchison Falls national Park in the ninth position in Africa. Despite such rankings and the diversity of bird species, though, Uganda continues to attract few birders, who end up spending more compared to other travelers.
Birding is becoming more and more popular with overseas tourists and yet very few guides in the tourism industry know very much about birds. The birding event will include guided nature walks throughout the country. Expected are re known expert ornithologists and bird guides from Birdlife International, Uganda Wildlife Authority, Nature Uganda and Uganda Bird Guides Club (UBGC) who will lead participants at various locations on Bird watching throughout the country.
The aim of this event is to use bird conservation to help promote tourism in Uganda and also bridge the information gap in Uganda by linking up all bird watchers, tourism promoters and conservationists in the country and other parts of the world.