In addition to being a graduate student at Oklahoma State University, I am full-time park guide for the Chickasaw Nation at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. The tribe has really supported me in my studies, and they have allowed me to take educational leave during this time. In return, I was asked to find a way to take something away from my experience and make it relevant to my position as a park guide. I have taken the last week and a half to explore some of Uganda's national parks and recreation opportunities so I can share about them back home. Now, I know this was some pretty rough research, but someone had to do it right?
Uganda has 10 national parks and 12 wildlife reserves managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UGA). Their mission is "To conserve, economically develop and sustainably manage the wildlife and protected areas of Uganda in partnership with neighboring communities and other stakeholders for the benefit of the people of Uganda and the global community." I was able to visit two of these national parks, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Murchison Falls National Park. Bwindi is home to approximately 320 mountain gorillas, which is approximately half of the world's population. In order to help conserve these rare animals, the UGA sells gorilla trekking permits that allow travelers to see one of the nine habituated troupes. The price for the permit dramatically drops in November (aka the rainy season). The hike to the troupe I trekked was quite a distance from the road. It was one heck of a vertical hike and downpours of rain came off and on. In the end, it was totally worth it! We were about 20 feet from the gorillas, and it was one of the most amazing things I have seen in my life. The babies were so cute! Unfortunately, I didn't really get any good photos because of the rain.
Murchison Falls is one of the oldest parks in Uganda and is home to 76 species of mammals, including lions, leopards, giraffes, water buffalo and elephants. The recreation experience I had at Murchison Falls was different than my experience at Bwindi. I went on a safari in a modified safari van on an amazingly beautiful day. I have never seen so many animals in one area at once. There were hundreds of Ugandan kobs, water buffaloes, elephants, giraffes, crocodiles and hippos. The coolest thing I saw was a group of three lionesses and four lion cubs.
An elephant at Murchison Falls National Park
Giraffes at Murchison Falls National Park
Uganda is home to some amazing wildlife, and the country works hard to protect these amazing creatures. At each park, they engage with the communities surrounding the parks to encourage people to protect these species and their habitat. Depending on the park, 10 percent to 20 percent of the funds generated from visitor fees goes to these communities. Tourism is really making a difference in the conservation of these amazing species.
Jennifer Bryant is a 2015 Noble-Watoto Fellow working at Watoto Child Care Ministries in Uganda. Bryant is from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and is in her first year of the master of international agriculture program at Oklahoma State University, where she focuses on international agriculture development and sustainability.