By Jeff Andrew Lule
Bird watchers can now celebrate as Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) moves in to protect one of the endangered birds — the ostrich — in Karamoja region.
UWEC has embarked on arrangements to hatch ostrich eggs with an artificial incubator. This follows a recent study in Karamoja region, the main natural habitat of the species in Uganda, when it was realised that the precious birds were endangered due to the poor practices by the local population.
UWEC’s acting spokesperson, Belinda Atim, says an incubation unit has already been set up at UWEC in Entebbe, where the eggs will be hatched.
“We acquired an incubator and hatcher from Santa Barbara Zoo, in the US. The facility is ready, but we are still waiting for eggs in order to start the project,” she explains.
Belinda says apart from conservation purposes, the programme will also be helpful for the pilot ostrich farming project in the region.
According to UWEC, very few people in the region are aware of the importance of the ostriches and continue to hunt them down for mainly feathers, without thinking about other benefits. A series of community meetings were held with leaders and direct beneficiaries of the project, who promised to provide the eggs.
“We met local communities and sensitised them about other benefits of the ostrich apart from feathers. They agreed to collect the eggs because they can easily identify where they are,” Atim says. She adds that many eggs were left rotting after the birds were killed for feathers.
Atim explains that it only takes one-and-a-half months to hatch ostrich eggs.
“The incubation equipment can hatch up to 120 eggs. We intend to give out the first batch of chicks to the selected model farmers in the region to raise them and sensitise others,” she says.
An animal keeper at UWEC training an ostrich
The centre has already selected 24 model farmers and each is expected to get four ostrich chicks.
She says the feasibility study was done in the area to sensitise and build confidence among leaders and communities.
“Some locals have good indigenous knowledge of hatching these eggs, which we can also use,” Atim says.
She notes that if rearing these birds is done effectively, it will also reduce poaching in the nearby parks like Kidepo.
UWEC keeps only 13 ostriches, which is attributed to the small space at the centre. “We have now decided to start engaging locals in conserving wildlife in their natural setting, which also helps in the protection of the environment,” Atim adds.
Benefits of the Ostriches
The project will empower communities to rear the birds for economic benefits so as to improve their livelihoods. Atim says every part of ostrich production is profitable, right from the eggs, chicks, to meat and plumes.
“We learnt that feathers are of commercial value. The meat is low in fat, which is so much recommended by nutritionists. World class hotels can buy it if the production is sufficient,” she notes.
Atim adds that the eggs of an ostrich are rich in proteins, while the egg shells can be used in interior designs in homes and hotels. The birds can be used to promote eco-tourism through small parks in the region.
Atim says it is very easy to raise an ostrich since they feed on grass and insects. She notes that in a capture situation, where the birds are being reared for profit, one might need a lot poultry supplements on top of good grass.
Atim says ostriches are highly adaptable and can survive in all parts of the country in various climatic conditions and terrain.