My First time in Bwindi National Park
As I concluded my Bachelors’ Degree in Tourism Management 3004 at Makerere University the best university in Uganda, I was meant to do research and provide a dissertation. My research topic surrounded Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. This time it was not all about gorilla trekking but to evaluate the effects of Uganda Wildlife Authority activities towards the development of the local communities in Buhoma area.
This topic aimed at outlining the benefits that the local community gets from the presence of the mountain gorillas in there area. The Uganda Wildlife Authority controls all activities in the park, they do earn some money and my focus was on how the local community benefits. Every year the Uganda Wildlife Authority shares with the local community about 20% of the profits got from tourism activities in Bwindi Impenetrable National park. No one really follows up on how this money is used by the local community leaders.
How I Prepared For My Bwindi Impenetrable National Park Research
Of course, I had to submit my topic to the head of Tourism department Makerere University for approval. Afterwards, I was assigned a supervisor who then instructed me to start write my research proposal.
I had to spend about two weeks of pre-research searching the available literature to make sure that I gather what others had done and what was lacking to necessitate or justify my research. I made several visits to Makerere University main library as well as Uganda Wildlife Authority library.
Having compiled my research proposal, I submitted it to my supervisor who then approved it together with my questionnaires, which I was to use to collect data in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
The next step, was to request for permission from Uganda Wildlife Authority to conduct research in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. I had to submit a copy of my proposal before research and at the end of time, I was requested to also submit a copy of my dissertation.
The Uganda wildlife Authority chief executive gave me a letter which I had to take to Chief warden in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. I was given three weeks to carry out research and Uganda Wildlife Authority sponsored my accommodation as well as transport while in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
How I Utilised My Research Time In Bwindi Impenetrable National park
I started journey to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park from Kampala where I had to board a bus to Kabale. From Kampala to Kabale, the drive is about 414 km lasting approximately 5 hour to 6 hours. The scenery along the road was mesmerizing as I peeped through the window. The lush green, meandering rivers, huge ridges and deep valleys that we passed by were beautiful.
From Kabale, I jumped on a pickup up to Butogota trading center from where I then stayed for a night since there were no cars going to Buhoma area of Bwindi National Park. In the morning there was a Uganda Wildlife Authority Land cruiser that had come to Butogota and when I asked them for a lift to Buhoma and they did not decline. The drive from Butogota to Buhoma is about 17 km. there is no public transport from Butogotata to Buhoma therefore a tourists has to hire a special taxi.
When I reached in Buhoma area for the first time, I looked at the beautiful Bwindi Forest canopy as it ascended from the bottom to the top of the ridge on either sides. I reported to the chief warden who then directed one of his staff to organize for me accommodation at Buhoma community rest Camp.
My greatest experience was unfolding over time. Everything was new and beautiful to look at as it reminded me of early school studies where we would just mention mountains and forest without having proof of there existence. This brought a little smile on my face knowing that I was standing in the reality of my passed studies.
I was alone in my Banda overlooking the forested hills and at dawn and dusk, I would enjoy the amazing hymns from singing birds emerging from the wilderness. Even regular visit from other primates like black and white colobus, red-tailed moneys, vervet monkeys, just brought a new life in me.
I was just that lucky fellow to be in one of the parks in the world that host the only left over mountain gorillas in the world. That is how important it was for me to develop a carrier in tourism. I felt as if I was a tourist but I was not.
I had my dinner at Buhoma Community and because I had a Banda all on my own, the manager proposed on how I could make money by sub renting some beds to the driver guides who could bring tourists to track mountain gorillas. I welcomed the idea and all the nights I spent there, I stayed with different driver guides who shared their experiences with me.
My first night was fantastic and in the morning, I had to talk to the warden in charge of community. He assigned me a ranger who was supposed to guide me to all areas of my research. I then discussed with him what I wanted to achieve and he was so helpful because he had every detail almost at his fingertips. It was very special.
About Bwindi Impenetrable National park
From the ranger guide, I learnt that Bwindi Impenetrable National park was first gazette in 1942 as a forest reserve. In 1992, it was upgraded to a National Park and later crowned a World Heritage site in 1994. I learnt that the park occupies an area of 327 square kilometers of tangled vegetation over fissured landscape.
The forest has over 300 tree species that have stood a test of time, more than 10 primate species including the mountain gorillas, 51 reptiles, more than 350 bird species and the list still expanding and much more. He further explained that the world Bwindi locally means impenetrable and indeed this double meaning is fit for Bwindi Impenetrable National park
Bwindi Impenetrable National park is one of the prime Uganda birding destinations even across Africa. The park, which has over 350 bird species including Albertine on the red list of IUCN is celebrated as one of Africa birding best destinations.
By taking the Ruhijah area, in Mubwindi Swamp, you may identify over 100 bird species in a day. Some of the birds you may get to spot include Western Green Tinkerbird, Mountain and yellow Steaked Greenbuls, Rwenzori Batis and white-tailed Crested fly catcher, collared Apalis, Red-faced Woodland Warbler and others.
My Encounter With The Local Community Out Of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
The range guide scheduled meetings with several communities in different villages which made my work of data collection easy.
I spent two weeks collecting data and one week resting in by Banda.
Because I was staying at Buhoma Community, I had a chance to go for the Buhoma villages walk to see how the trail looked like. I got to take the Buhoma Community and cultural performance walk that is a locally managed. They perform special local dances and acts to showcase there culture.
During this walk, you can visit a traditional healer, check out the banana beer brewer, watch traditional dancers and so much more. This is at an affordable fee, which is used by the community to provide basic need for their families like sugar, salt, matchboxes and others.
I had my first experience with tourists which I remember very well, we went with Volcanoes Safari clients who kept asking me what I was doing. I explained to them that I was a university student on research and they were much interested in what I was doing.
Every time they wanted to know anything, they would ask me. One interesting question was when we reached on a coffee plant, they asked me what it was. I then told them that this was coffee and they wondered if Uganda was one of the countries that grow coffee. If so, why had they not found it in any international market?
I explained to them that by then Uganda was the fourth largest exporter of coffee in the whole world and that because we exported raw coffee with no value added, other countries would process it and then label it accordingly. They were surprised and when we returned, they gave me my first tip of USD10.00, which was my first dollar note in life. I had hit a jackpot as a student on study.
The feeling I got must be the same feeling porters get when tourists are hire to them to help carry their bags during gorilla trekking. This is one of the ways to directly contribute to the local community during gorilla trekking safari. The locals carry your gear bags at a small fee which they use to carter for family affairs like school fees, dressing, health care and much more.
Bwindi Hospital is one of the best medical care facilities in this area and it is partly funded by the 20% money given to the local community annually from Uganda Wildlife Authority. Even some tourists do donate to this noble cause and this helps the locals get medical care at a subsidized price.
Some Of What I Found Out about Bwindi Impenetrable National Park Then
During my stay in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, I came to know that some of the Uganda Wildlife Authority staff by then were under educated. Some of them never wanted to associate with me because they thought that I had come to take their jobs but after realizing that I was a mere student on research then they were okay with me.
Even when there formal education level was not up to standard then, majority struggled to grasp information about the pack by heart. They were dedicated men and women who loved their work and willing to defend it jealously. They were a zealous team that was ready to learn in case chance fell before them.
I also realized that because of tourists and driver guides, many young girls had flocked Buhoma area to work as prostitutes in order to make quick money and this was very dangerous. I also noted that because of the booming tourism in the area, craft markets and shops were springing up and good for business.
It was a different area, very cold and on a high altitude. It could rain without warning at any time and little shine would penetrate through which keeps the area under humid condition almost all day long.
As time goes on, a number of accommodation facilities are springing up in Buhoma area that offer different services ranging from Luxury to mid-range to modest.
A few of the lodges present in Buhoma area north of Bwindi Impenetrable National park include Buhoma lodge, Engage lodge, Gorilla Forest Lodge, Mahogany springs, Gorilla Resort, Lake Kitandara Tented Camp, Buhoma community Banda, Silver Back Lodge and others
For one to book accommodation in Bwindi Impenetrable National park, you currently need to consider the area where your gorilla permit is booked. Bwindi Impenetrable National park is divided into four areas. Buhoma area and Ruhijah area in the northern Part whereas Nkuringo area and Rushaga area lie in the Southern part of Bwindi impenetrable National park.
Transport to Buhoma area is also improving, as there are daily flights from Entebbe Airport or Kajjansi airstrip to Kihihi Air strip. Tourists need to hire a transfer vehicle in advance because there are no taxi services readily at Kihihi airstrip. The drive from Kihihi Airstrip to Buhoma are takes about 2 hours
when I returned back to Kampala, I carried a lot of memories and I promised to return often.
My conclusion was that Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of the best places to visit while in Uganda as it is very different and unique in whichever way you look at it. Since then my research findings were adopted by Uganda Wildlife Authority and am glad that they are now contributing to the development of communities in the area.
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