A host of conservation adherents will party today at the Kampala Serena Hotel as Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) celebrates 50 years of Kidepo Valley National Park
A host of conservation adherents will party today at the Kampala Serena Hotel as Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) celebrates 50 years of Kidepo Valley National Park. Kidepo whose rugged savannah dominated by Mount Morungole and transected by two rivers in the Karamoja region, was gazetted as a national park in 1962, soon after Uganda got her Independence. The celebration also falls at a critical time after the park received a CNN Travel Award as third best wilderness park in Africa. Gilbert Kidimu spoke to Dr. Andrew Seguya, the executive director, UWA and below are excerpts:-
Q: What is the theme for Kidepo’s 50th anniversary celebrations?
A: Celebrating Conservation: Kidepo @ 50. We are celebrating conservation in Uganda, but focussing more on Kidepo because it turned 50 years in October last year. In celebration, we are giving awards of excellence, contribution of women in conservation and paying special tribute to people, who have been injured or lost their lives in line of duty.
What makes Kidepo stand out from other national parks?
The first attraction about Kidepo is its unique scenerythe savannah grasslands and mountainous range. It is one of
very few wilderness parks in the world, enclosing a wide variety of wildlife. The famous big five in Africa, that is lions, elephants, Rhinos, leopards, buffaloes are all there and a host of other animals. The animal population is huge to boot, as herds of animals throng the savannah grounds.
Unique bird species are in abundance. Kidepo is shaped like a bowel as a result of its terrain, which is surrounded by mountains. This offers natural protection from encroachment, hence reserving its eco-system. Hot springs, rivers, lush valleys are part of this very well reserved diverse habitat. Water rafting, mountain climbing, game viewing, bird watching, etcetera are some of the activities in this far northern game park. That is why Kidepo won a CNN Travel Award as the third best wilderness park in Africa.
Considering the long drought spells and diseases, what are you doing to conserve the wildlife?
We have a number of programmes aimed at conserving wildlife in Kidepo just like other game parks. We do constant monitoring and research to notice any changes in the eco system, effects of climate, flora and fauna. We have a monitoring unit that works daily.
We also recognise the importance of communities around game parks so that we do this in partnership with them. Our intention is for them to embrace the system of conservation as a community because their actions are critical. This is meant to lessen poaching and encroachment.
We also use their help while doing research and monitoring. We have a law enforcement unite that checks illegal activities in the park especially the dangerous ones, although dialogue is always the first option. To ensure eco-system maintenance, we remove plant species that are destructive, disease control through periodic sampling and maintain water catchment areas
Raymond Engena, the director, Tourism Development & Business Services talks about Kidepo’s progress
Q: What outstanding challenges has the game park faced?
A:We have had challenges of poaching and encroachment in the northern part of the park orchestrated by Southern Sudanese. The population there still possess guns and the herdsmen with their hundreds of cattle destroy the vegetation. Beautiful as it is, Kidepo has not been well visited when compared with Queen Elizabeth and Bwindi national parks. This is because of the previously very bad roads and the absence of regular flights, coupled with the long distance. From Kampala, it is 720km through Moroto and 520km via Gulu.
What are your plans to grow tourist numbers in Kidepo?
We are upgrading our financial systems. Since members of staff have been carrying large amounts of cash in the past and being exposed to danger, we are introducing the smart card to reduce the use of cash. All you have to do is swipe to pay instead of carrying cash as has been the case. It is also meant to improve service delivery as it simplifies payment for entrance and boat rides.
Tourists have always booked hotels while in their home states like the UK, and this will have the same effect- using technology to make transactions simpler and more convenient. We are improving infrastructure, game drives and encouraging the private sector to create more facilities. We are currently working with UNRA to ensure that access to the park is improved.
We would like the flights to Kidepo to be more frequent. Promoting tourism and visitation of Kidepo creates awareness of the place, hence generates the funds that facilitate conservation. Tourists who come over usually bond with the place and come back.
How does wildlife conservation benefit Ugandans?
Heritage is something to hold dear;very important to conserve. The entire ecosystem lives in balance and humans are part of it.
The wellness of water, forests, land, animals and birds assures us of our survival. Besides, we also need to revel in these parks and sceneries.
While many Ugandans think going to a game park is too expensive, it will cost a Ugandan citizen only shs5,000 to enter the park. Accommodation facilities are priced fairly, and so are other services. We invite all Ugandans, East Africans and the international community to come and explore the wild of Uganda.
Kidepo Valley National Park marks 50