As Uganda prepares to host the fourth annual African Birding Expo December 10 to 12 at the Botanical Gardens in Entebbe, there are increasing concerns about the disposal of single-use face masks that are posing danger to birdlife.
Bashir Hangi, head of communications at the Uganda Wildlife Authority said his organisation was yet to compile a report detailing the full impact of Covid-19 protective gear on birdlife in the country.
Littering is a common occurrence among Ugandans but carelessly disposed face masks are dispersed by wind or washed down drains by the rainwater runoff, ending up in waterways where many birds usually nest and forage.
With the gray crowned crane — commonly known as the crested crane — already threatened with extinction, experts fear that Uganda’s sacred bird — it features prominently on the country’s national flag and coat of arms — could be driven further towards extinction.
Herbert Byaruhanga, president of the Uganda Tourism Association and managing director of Bird Uganda Safaris, says the gray crowned crane is one of the bird species “whose sightings have rapidly reduced during the pandemic”.
Official figures indicate that there are between 10,000 and 20,000 gray crowned cranes left in Uganda — down from an estimated 100,000 about four decades ago.
Byaruhanga also singled out the rare shoe-billed stork.
“Many bird species are reducing in number because of encroachment of their natural habitats by humans. As people seek more land for farming, they are cutting down forests and burning wetlands,” Byaruhanga said.
A birder’s paradise playing host to over 1,060 bird species — accounting for 10 per cent of the world’s bird species and 50 per cent of Africa’s bird species — Uganda is touted to be the next sought-after birding destination.
Among the many special bird species that can be found in Uganda is the Fox’s weaver, only found near the Lake Kyoga region, northeast of the country.
Other famous birds of Uganda include the pelican, Rwenzori turacco, Rwenzori nightjar, bee-eater, kingfisher, cormorant, hornbill, goliath heron, short-tailed warbler, red-faced woodland warbler, blue-headed sunbird, Egyptian goose and the long-tailed cuckoo.
“Uganda is the ultimate birding paradise, attracting birdwatchers from all over the world because, aside from our own resident bird species, it attracts migratory birds from all over the world because of its exceptional wetlands, forests and water bodies,” Mr Hangi said.
He argues that birding has potential to attract tourists throughout the year, if only the country were to market birds as well as it does mammals and culture.
Mr Byaruhanga says, birdwatching is increasingly becoming one of most lucrative adventure tourism products worldwide — and particularly in Africa — because bird watchers usually spend more days and money on a trip.
The African Birding Expo aims to showcase Uganda and the wider African continent as a leading birding destination. The expo not only targets non-Africans, but also African birding enthusiasts because intra-African travel has proved to be a bit resilient during the Covid-19 pandemic that has devastated travel across the globe.
Activities within the three-day event include birding tours, advanced birding training, nature photography training, exhibitions, FAM trips, bird clinics, nature photography clinics, birding competitions, and the Birding and Conservation awards, among others.