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Monday, June 3, 2013

Elephants, Giraffes, and Hippos. Oh my! (But where were the lions?...)

       On Sunday morning we began our journey to Murchison Falls National Park in northwest Uganda. We split our group into five vans: lion van, elephant van, cape buffalo van, hippo van, and leopard van.  Approximately one minute after leaving Red Chilli, the cape buffalos had van trouble.  Two hours behind schedule, we finally got a back-up vehicle and left Kampala for a long and bumpy ride.  We arrived at Red Chilli's campsite in Murchison Falls around seven hours and three baboon sightings later, just in time to be lectured on hippo safety.  Baker, one of our leaders at Red Chilli, explained that hippos would be eating grass outside of our tents during the night, and that flash photography would provoke them and cause them to bite us in half (this may or not be an exaggeration...).  As promised, there was at least one hippo eating and stomping around outside at approximately 3:50 a.m. We also saw warthogs roaming around the campsite on multiple occasions.  One of them tried to eat Lisa F. and I while we were taking advantage of a photo opp. 
     At 5:30 Monday morning (Leah's 20th birthday) we woke up so that we could be first in line for our game drive through the national park.  There are ten national parks in Uganda, and Murchison Falls is the biggest.  We walked down to the loading dock to board the ferry which would carry us and our vans across the Nile River to the side of the park where most wildlife can be seen.  Julien avoided missing the ferry by jumping across a foot worth of Nile to make it on time. (Rate the epic-ness of his leap in your comment).  
     Dr. Senteza led us in the elephant van (the elephant is his family totem), and within just a few minutes of beginning our drive, we had spotted a real African elephant.  Just across the road ahead there was another elephant, and then another, and then one with a calf!  Seeing these elephants, the largest living land mammals on earth, made all of us in Dr. Senteza's van ecstatic to continue our drive and see what else we would find.  Soon we were seeing antelope, kob, and oribi, the smallest kind of antelope.  We saw parliaments (large groups) of giraffes, both close to the van and in the distance.  Moses, our driver, told us that the older giraffes are darker, and they also have a third horn in the middle of their heads.  Moses estimated one particularly dark giraffe to be 24 years old, which he equated to 80 human years! He's older than my grandpa! We saw cape buffalo with birds sitting on their backs, an example of mutualism (I remembered something from Bio 13!).  When we saw antelope acting scared and alert, we suspected the presence of a lion, but were disappointed when one did not emerge.  In fact, the only van that saw lions was Dr. Adkin's van, the lion van!  They saw two lionesses, and gladly made everyone else jealous.  Uganda's wildlife parks boast the "Big Five" animal species: lion, leopard, rhino, cape buffalo, and elephant.  There are no rhinos left in Murchison Falls and we did not spot any leopards, so most of us had to settle for only two of the five. 
     Moses and Dr. Senteza explained to me that the road construction happening in the park was both to improve road conditions and to explore the massive oil reserves that lie underneath Murchison Falls.  Uganda has abundant amounts of oil that is not being tapped into, mostly because there are conflicts concerning the income that could be generated from exporting oil, and the need to preserve the falls and the income that comes through tourism. 
     We returned to the campsite for lunch and a short nap before we departed for our three hour boat ride on the Nile.  The boat took us up river to the falls that gave Murchison Falls National Park its name.  We saw hundreds of hippos (called schools) lounging in the water, a few elephants, many birds (even an eagle!), and many crocodiles on the way.  The day's injuries amounted to severe sunburn and extreme exhaustion. 
     Students: Now that you have seen the beauty of Uganda's nature and wildlife, think about Patrick Bitature's statement that Uganda does not advertise it's wildlife parks enough.  Do you think that Uganda should try to market this attraction to more foreigners in hopes to attract for tourists? Also, what do you think about Uganda taking advantage of it's oil? Do you think they should harvest and export the oil for economic benefit? Or is it more important to leave the falls as it is for environmental benefit? 
P.S. As I'm writing this blog, there are two hippos roaming our campsite.  No pictures, please.



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  2. Kristin, great blog! Loved your description about the trip to the falls and the hippos. Nothing like waking up in the middle of the night to hippos brushing up against your tent... I also give Julian's jump a 6, I think his form could have been a little better, but it was a good effort. Going back to the actual questions, I do think that Uganda needs to do a better job on promoting its wildlife parks. There is such beauty within the parks that is being wasted, and tourism could become a large part of Uganda. When it comes to the oil that was recently found in the park, I that it has its good and bad parts. Yes, it will be good for the economy, but it will be bad for the environment, and the environment is what the park is all about. In this industrialized world there are fewer and fewer national parks like Murchison Falls and they need to be preserved!

  3. Reading this makes me realize that I miss MFNP already! Watching the sun rise over the Nile was incredible and quite possibly my favorite part about the trip thus far... Seeing Julien almost fall into the Nile was scary, but hilarious once he made it on the ferry safely. I would give his jump a 6.75. Anyway, about tourism in Africa; When I think of all of the times I've heard about tourism in Africa, Uganda does not rank very high on the countries that attract a lot of tourism, yet it has amazing tourist attractions! I would agree with Mr. Patrick Bitature, if Uganda invested in advertising its attractions, the country would see a large spike in tourism, because the sites really are beautiful!

  4. Oil is a double edged sword, a great deal of good and bad can come from it. the Ugandan economy and international view will greatly increase, but the environment and possible domestic conflicts will bring a whole new set of issues. there is usually some type of fighting when oil is discovered, who owns it and who will get the oil out of the ground. while many will become wealthy, the poor will stay poor and there will be an even greater tension between the two. the fun part is there will never be a definite answer, there is only choice. there is always a group who will disagree with the choice that's been made and raise an issue, with any luck that issue will be peaceful and not a bloody conflict.

  5. Thanks for a great blog Kristin! First, the leap was pretty awesome! I would probably rate in a 6 for the daring risk involved in it.

    The environmental discussion that surrounded this weekend was really interesting. Dealing with Uganda's oil supply is tricky. Drilling the oil may damage the environment and the wildlife in the parks. However, it would provide quick economic gains for the local community. It might be worthwhile for the locals around MFNP to invest in a balance of long-term and short-term projects. Oil would most likely be a short term investment. It would have a high impact for the community, but when the oil runs out, where does that leave the community around the park?

    As for additional marketing of MFNP to me that is more likely to be a long term solution. First, the world is becoming more developed and finding nature is becoming increasingly difficult, so national parks may be in increased demand. This future demand, however, is not without challenges. NFNP does not really have the infrastructure for accommodating more visitors. Look at their roads, for example, they're dirt. Personally, I found the falls breathtaking!

  6. Loved your blog, Kristin! It was equally accurate and hilarious. Before I get into the more academic aspect of this blog, I'd like to give Julien a leap rating of a 5.75 for the danger of the leap and the fact that the man in charge was telling him no. You would have gotten more points if you completed a victory dance after landing, Julien.

    Throughout my time at MFNP, I thought about three things: the beauty, Mr. Bitature's statements on Ugandan tourism, and not getting eaten by hippos. I enjoyed comparing his thoughts on tourism and the Ugandan wildlife to what I saw at the park and what I've seen of tourism in the U.S. In general, I'd have to agree with his statements. Investing in tourism often has high returns for a country financially as well as socially. If a country gains a reputation of pride for its natural wonders, it will likely gain a better social reputation throughout the world. Therefore, I think Uganda would greatly benefit from marketing its national parks to tourists.

    In regards to the oil recently found in MFNP, I believe there is great risk in harvesting it. Although it would bring the country much economic gains, these must be weighed against environmental and social issues. First, harvesting oil would disrupt the natural setting of MFNP. The animals may leave and the habitat may be partially destroyed. Second, the people of Uganda who support the natural setting and who pride themselves on the occurrence of the Big Five in their country might become upset and act out against the government or the sale of oil. Socially, this could become a large issue. Finally, if the government does choose to invest in the tourism industry as well as the oil industry, there will be conflicting interests in the park. This would cause great issues for the government because not only would they be losing money on tourism (due to the lack of individuals who would want to come to a national park harvesting oil) and losing social status throughout the world.

  7. Thanks for the great post Kristin! Definitely entertaining. Id have to give Julien's jump a 4.9 for a number of qualitative and quantitative reasons.

    As far as your questions go, I absolutely believe that Uganada should better market its natural beauty. Kenya spends a great deal of money on their tourism industry, and it has clearly paid off. Uganda has so much to offer, and I believe it could greatly benefit the country as a whole to draw more tourists.

    The oil is a pretty tough question. It is important to maintain the beauty of the park, but I think the oil provides too much money to leave in the ground. Professor Senteza's idea of harvesting the oil on the side of the river without any animals seems to be a good idea, but there are obviously other ways to explore as well.

  8. Lisa Feldmann: Unfortunately didn't see Julien's jump, but I've heard most didn't think he'd make it so, so I give him a 6 for making it on the ferry.
    After seeing a great need for economic development in Uganda, I think that MFNP could definitely benefit from some extra marketing to increase tourism. I noticed that the park did not have a restaurant and maybe one tourist shop. I think that if some of the locals were allowed to rent a space at the park's ferry crossing and sell crafts, souvenirs, and t-shirts, they would make a sustainable and substantial income. I think more marketing of the park would also increase international awareness of the beauty and resources available in Uganda which reflect its great value and contribution as a country.

  9. Great blog Kristen! I think Uganda needs to do a much better job advertising the parks to the foreign visitors. This is essentially the project I have taken on for this course. One thing that surprised me about Uganda is the amount of natural beauty the country possesses. If they were able to improve conservation efforts to grow the animal populations, improve the infrastructure around the park, and expand the amount of tourist attractions in tourists areas, I think foreigners wanting to come to Africa would take a longer look at Uganda. When it comes to oil, I believe they need to export it in a way that has the most limiting impact on the environment. The risks are high, but the rewards for the country as a whole could be amazing.

  10. The visit to Murchinson Falls and the exciting safari drive that followed revealed much to me about the possibility of expanding upon Uganda's tourist industry. The issue has been raised, however, that increased tourism may negatively impact the social aspect of sustainability because it will disrupt the natural lifestyles of Ugandan's living near the area. As we have already established, though, sustainability requires sacrifices and in the face of oil drilling and the likely setbacks that will results from the drilling of oil, I argue that increased tourism is a more desirable alternative than the prospects of fueling the already rampant corruption by adding oil into the mix. History has shown in various instances that the discovery of oil within Africa has usually ended in disaster for the people (i.e. Nigeria) that is why I believe oil drilling should be postponed until Uganda has secured a more democratic and trustworthy leader and focus on expanding its tourist industry in the meantime to secure a source of revenue for further development.

  11. I think that Mr. Bitature’s statement is entirely accurate. How will people know about the beauty of Uganda if the people of Uganda don’t tell them about it? Increased advertisements to tourists will inevitably increase the traffic within the wildlife parks. I think that Uganda should find a way to both harvest the oil effectively for economic value and also keep the environment and wildlife intact as much as possible. In this scenario, Uganda would be able to profit from the exports of some of the oil, but more importantly keep most of the oil in country in an effort to lower the gas prices. The line is very thin and the balance is very touchy, but if done correctly Uganda would be able to reap the benefits of both its oil and its wildlife.