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Monday,October 19,2020 08:56 AM

Birdwatchers tap fortune from swamp

By Vision Reporter

Added 26th February 2007 03:00 AM

HE has built a house, bought a car and is able to look after his seven children, thanks to birdwatching. Hannington Kasasa, 28 and resident of Mabamba village, is an example of prosperity that comes with birdwatching. He works as a guide in the nearby swamp.

HE has built a house, bought a car and is able to look after his seven children, thanks to birdwatching. Hannington Kasasa, 28 and resident of Mabamba village, is an example of prosperity that comes with birdwatching. He works as a guide in the nearby swamp.

By Gerald Tenywa

HE has built a house, bought a car and is able to look after his seven children, thanks to birdwatching. Hannington Kasasa, 28 and resident of Mabamba village, is an example of prosperity that comes with birdwatching. He works as a guide in the nearby swamp.

Fifteen years ago, he was a brow-beaten villager in Mabamba, Kasanje sub-county in Wakiso district, when word reached him about a group of stranded birdwatchers.

His parents encouraged him to take the tourists around the swamp to see a shoebill, an endangered bird that lives in the swamp.

“The deal was good. It came with an offer to pay my school fees and the tourists sent more groups that I took around the swamp during my holidays,’’ says Kasasa.

Kasasa was hooked and so were other lads who started earning more about a decade ago as thousands of birdwatchers came to their village.

“We started getting tourists from abroad regularly and the number is still growing,’’ says Mary Nanyonjo, the chairperson of Mabamba Bird Guides and Conservation Association.

Each group of tourists pays up to $30 (sh50,000) for the guiding services and when the turn-up is good the total earnings can notch up to $120 (about sh200,000) a week.

Achilles Byaruhanga, who heads Nature Uganda, a partner of BirdLife International is responsible for making Mabamba what it is today.

His studies have helped to educate people about the wealth existing in the swamp. It was recognised as a conservation area with global repute along with eight other wetlands in Uganda.

Two weeks ago, the environment minister, Maria Mutagamba, was in Mabamba village to officially declare the wetland an international conservation area. She praised conservation NGOs like Environmental Alert and Nature Uganda for promoting ecological use of nature.

Prior to this, Byaruhanga’s research had earned Mabamba an accolade as an ‘Important Bird Area’ which implies that it is a priority area for protection of birds.
He recalls that Mabamba was humble and quiet as the local people battled for survival against dense marshlands that were only known for its delicious fish. “This has been a village that depends on lung fish and tilapia,’’ he says.

But Byaruhanga is not alone in executing his duties. Uganda Bird Guides Club has also played a big role. It initially organised the villagers to watch-over encroachers and discourage destructive activities like bush burning that destroys eggs and the chicks. They hope Mabamba’s heritage is kept active for generations to come.

Over 300 species of both migratory and native birds including the globally threatened shoebill live in Mabamba. The shoebill, which is a large grey bird with a spoon-shaped beak, looks so strange and is one of the biggest tourist attractions.

But all these unique birds, plants and monkeys would not last long unless their place is kept and managed well.
There is need to set up more commercial enterprises that can help the residents appreciate wildlife.

“It is important to look at the welfare of people if wildlife conservation is to thrive,’’ says Byaruhanga.

So far, the main organised event remains birdwatching expeditions, which is likely to grow and generatemore income for the local people. This could later become a fun place at the doorsteps of Kampala.

Other ventures may include a guest house or a resort to accommodate visitors who may want to view birds early in the morning or those who may stay longer to explore the nearby Busi Island in Lake Victoria.

The local people could reap from selling handicrafts, traditional cuisine, dances and local stories.

Unlike people like Kasasa who have been lucky, poverty and misery still affects the village. This could be a recipe for encroachment. The area is prone to destruction with persistent hunting, bushfires and extractive income generating activities like sand mining.

“We have been battling bushfires, but we do not have powers to stop the activity because people have to earn a living,’’ says Kasasa.

But the prospects for the residents are becoming brighter. Mabamba wetland has a framework as a strategy that brings district authorities, NGOs and the wetland inspection division to work together to make it a conservation and recreational area.

Birdwatchers tap fortune from swamp

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