-Rising Flames Threaten Uganda’s Lake Mburo National Park
By Davis Buyondo
During the dry season, wildfires naturally ignite and consume vast dry grasslands. Some of these flames, started by desperate farmers and cattle keepers, pose a growing threat to one of Uganda’s most treasured treasures, its national parks.
At the heart of this battle, Lake Mburo National Park stands as a testament to the challenges facing conservationists, as they struggle to preserve the natural world.
Uganda’s national parks have recently been grappling with uncontrolled fires, deliberately set by farmers to create greener pastures for their livestock, causing ecological disorder.
“We have the challenge of fire management whereby the cattle keepers set fire so that when the areas are burnt, they can get a sprout of new grass to graze their animals,” Hilary Agaba, the Warden of Ecological Monitoring and Research Officer at Lake Mburo National Park expressed.
This situation is further escalated by the rapidly increasing human population around these parks. According to Bashir Hangi, Senior Communication Manager at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), there is a litany of issues plaguing the parks including human-wildlife conflict, poaching, illegal grazing, drought, and rampant human population.
However, he adds, the most pressing concern is certainly the wildfires that have the potential to cause irreparable damage to the fragile ecosystems and wildlife that make Uganda’s national parks a globally celebrated attraction.
“Certainly the fire will cause damage to the animals and other properties. We encourage farmers not to light fires unnecessarily and, in case they do, let them inform us so that our fire team can assemble the firefighting mechanism to protect the parks from burning,” Hangi explains.
However, it is not just about extinguishing the flames. Conservationists and park officials practice controlled burning to regenerate pastures, an essential part of managing the park’s delicate ecosystem.
It is said that when park authorities do control burning, people think they are just burning indiscriminately. However, one is supposed to have a fire management strategy in place to protect the wildfire from blowing into the park or reserves.
Lake Mburo National Park, a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, is facing these challenges head-on. The park is Uganda’s smallest savannah national park, boasting 10 square kilometers of shallow conservation water Lake.
It’s conveniently situated close to the Mbarara-Masaka highway, connecting Kampala to the parks of western Uganda like Queen Elizabeth National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, making it a valuable part of the country’s tourism industry.
Lake Mburo, with its 50-kilometer-long wetland system linked by a swamp, is home to diverse wildlife, including buffalos, warthogs, and hippos.
Additionally, in 2015, a group of 15 giraffes was trans-located to the park, and today, their numbers have swelled to nearly 70, providing a unique attraction next to Kidepo National Park.
For birdwatchers, Lake Mburo is paradise, boasting over 315 species. The park is the ideal spot for acacia-associated birds, including the mosque swallow, black-bellied bustard, bare-faced-go-away bird, pied kingfisher, and reptile starling. A few birds are exclusive to the park, such as the southern ground hornbill and black-throated.
UWA and park officials are now encouraging domestic tourism and seeking investors to build affordable hotels to help boost tourism in the area.
“We are aggressively marketing wildlife products so that we are able to attract more tourists into the country. At least we should be able to talk about 5 million visitors in a year as a country, and last financial year, UWA had about 360,000 visitors in all our parks, so we still have a long way to go,” he said.
Tourism in Uganda is the linchpin for boosting job opportunities, augmenting foreign currency reserves, strengthening the collection of domestic revenue, and steering an economic transformation led by the service sector. To unlock its maximum potential, a comprehensive strategy is essential to unite stakeholders and provide tailored assistance.
However, according to data from UTB (Uganda Tourism Board), Uganda’s tourism industry is on a steady path to recovery. The most recent statistics reveal that Uganda hosted 814,508 tourists in the year 2022, resulting in a substantial revenue of $736 million for the country.