EDGAR R. BATTE
Eco-tourism involves visiting areas such as national parks, water- falls, zoos and mountains in order to enjoy and appreciate nature and provide for socio-economic involvement of local people.
Experts say eco-tourism is crucial for the preservation of nature in an era of fast economic and demographic changes in Uganda. Mr Samuel Mugisha, the Managing Director of Bic Tours Limited, says when people appreciate the value of nature, they also understand why and how they contribute to its conservation and protection.
“When communities around national parks enjoy the benefits of tourism by working in lodges and sell their products or produce as well as getting a percentage income that goes to the community projects, they begin to value nature and, therefore, connect their coexistence,” he explains.
Tourism connects people to nature. Uganda’s tourism is abundantly endowed with natural biodiversity from savannah plains, tropical rain forests, forested mountains, fresh water lakes, crater lakes and rivers.
Tourists come to enjoy both nature and wildlife in one environment. And beyond the wildlife that calls jungle home, Mr Costantino Tessarin, the director of Destination Jungle Tours and Safari, appreciates the role ecotourism and nature walks have played in saving Uganda’s forests in the past.
Mr Tessarin cites the case of Kanyo Pabidi eco-tourism site for chimpanzee trekking which was opened in 2002 and is now a well treasured activity by tourists which explains why it is protected.
Bugoma Forest in Hoima, western Uganda, has suffered which in the last 15 years saw a great increase in deforestation, forest encroachment and political interference for timber dealing and illegal logging.
After being depleted, in 2016 the forest reserve started receiving tourists at the Mwera eco-tourist site and activities to develop habituation of endangered Ugandan mangabeys and chimpanzees are ongoing for ecotourism purposes. This will help in stabilising the conservation of the forest.
Tessarin adds that creation of the Association for the Conservation of Bugoma Forest which has ecotourism development as a core objective is a step in the positive direction.
Eco lodge Bugoma Jungle Lodge is another. The need to focus on activities such as nature walks, mountain climbing, boat riding, and excursion also point to ways through which nature can be conserved given the interest they draw towards human connection to nature.
Mr Mugisha says that such activities bring people in direct contact with nature; you see, feel and connect with nature. For example, the feeling you get while at the tow of Murchison Falls National Park, the sounds of the jungle walking in Bwindi and the beautiful sights on top of hills or mountains overlooking a beautiful lake are incredible experiences.
Complementary to that, Tessarin roots for harmony between human beings and the nature for example sport biking, taking nature walks, going for a run event or a bicycle tour that are fun and healthy.
Whereas tourism has seen a lot of interests from foreign tourists, Mugisha is happy that there is increasing interest by Ugandan tourists in nature based tourism.
The director of Bic Tours observes increased inquiries for trips to Kidepo Valley National Park by Ugandans who would like to indulge in a wilderness feeling and experience.
The hindrance is the high cost of safaris to such great destination, an issue tour operators need to keenly study. UWA encourages group travel by hiring out its 50-tourist capacity buses at Shs800, 000 for a dry hire per day.