On Wednesday, June 3, we got to spend the day at Queen Elizabeth National Park. Soon after entering the massive park, covering 1978 sq. km. and 6 districts, we ran into a large pack of baboons who were reluctant to let us into the park. We stopped the bus to get some pictures of them on the road and then continued on to find some elephants in the distance- and this was only the beginning. As we made our way into the visitors center, we were met with thousands of pretty butterflies, more elephants, some antelope, and an abundant amount of dense, green vegetation. Shannon and I were sticking our heads out the window, taking as much advantage of the fresh African air as we could. I felt like it really was just a big breath of fresh air being in the park. I think this day was so relaxing because we were totally removed from the every day reminders- whether they be the conditions of the roads, people selling fruits and vegetables to us on the side of the road, desperate to make a few thousand shillings, or the men, women and children working so hard in their hillside farms- that people are suffering and that there is a lot of work to be done to help them. It was our chance to see just why Uganda is referred to as the "Pearl of Africa".
We had a buffet lunch in the park with more traditional Ugandan food (and the best pineapple I've ever tasted!) and then walked to the eduation center for a short lecture on the logistics of the park, on conservation education, and on the park's community involvement, which I was very impressed with. Our lecturer stressed how important it is to their conservation efforts to educate people and to have the cooperation of the local and neighboring communities. They keep the neighboring communities involved through collaborative management and signed agreements. Queen Elizabeth National Park also puts 20 percent of their profit into social programs and facilities for those communities.
After the lecture we went for a double-decker boat safari and saw more elephants, some crocodiles, African birds, buffalo, and I think enough fat hippos to last most of us until our next trip to Africa. We concluded our trip with a game drive in our bus. We were fortunate to see real, wild lions (!!) in the distance. We also saw elephants, warthogs, and lots of antelope. We had a great guide with a keen eye for spotting animals really far away. He was also very knowledgeable about the animals in the park and would fill us in about the lives that the animals we were seeing live.
Environmental conservation is areally important part of sustainable development; and until our trip to Western Uganda, it was somethign we hadn't talked much about. Sustainavble development began as a theory that combined economic development with environmnental conservation. It was the idea that people could meet their needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. To develop sustainably, then, Uganda must conserve and replace natural resources at the rat at which they are depleting them.
For environmental efforts to be successful, there must be social support. For there to be social support, the people must be educated about the issues and have the capacity to show concern. The Queen Elizabeth National Park conservation committe is committed to educating youth and communities in and around the national park about conservation. This is great and really important, but it leaves me wondering abut the rest of the country. Think about all of the people we drive by in Kampala, and about those working in the Owino Market. Then think about those in rural villages with no access to the news or information about any social issues in Uganda or the world. I bet most of these people are not educated about environmental issues, and many may not have the 'luxury' to have or show concern for the environment when they are struggling to meet their own basic needs and the needs of their families. Do you think it is possible for Uganda to make a collaborative and successful effort to preserve its environment in today's society? If it is not possible, then one would argue that Uganda may be able to develop economically, but not sustainably (in the full meaning of sustainable). If it is possible, what needs to be done?