The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) staff were elated to join their colleagues from Mgahinga Protected Area for the cross visit to Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area(QECA) and Kibale national parks. The team composed of 24 rangers headed by their tourism and community conservation wardens embarked on the adventurous trip to learn what happens in other parks surrounding Bwindi. The choice of emphasize were the savannah park of Queen and the chimpanzee habitat of Kibale. Many of these staff had not travelled anywhere outside their Conservation Areas (CAs) since they commenced work with UWA. They could not visibly hold back their excitement and anticipation to venture into the world unknown.
Since inceptions of tourism in BMCA, 12 gorilla groups have been habituated for tourism. Gorilla tracking daily is conducted by the guides recruited within the CA. These have never worked anywhere else and hardly understand and have correct knowledge of what happens else later on knowledge about other tourism products that exist in other UWA estates.
The team arrived at Queen Elizabeth national park 7:00pm and they were received and welcomed by the conservation area manager who gave a brief about Queen Elizabeth national park highlighting both tourism products offered and problem animal interventions in the CA. In his remarks the Conservation Area Manager (CAM) thanked Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area(BMCA) management for choosing QECA as one of the destinations of study. QECA offers both morning and evening game drives begin at 3pm. The game drives take about 3 hrs.
Due to the scheduled time, the team preferred the morning drive which started from the peninsular and ended at the Kyambura gorge. This drive took about 7 hours and the BMCA team was able to visit and see Lake Edward, numerous animals, Lake Katwe (salt lake) and a number of grater lakes which were all formed out of volcanicity.
The team was however marveled by the view and animals they saw in the afternoon's boat cruise on the Kazinga Channel. The product was relatively new to most of the members. A number of big Mammals like Elephants, Hippos, Buffaloes and some reptiles like Crocodiles were sighted to mention the breath taking sceneries and the freshness of the water environs. In their own admission, they seemed to concur that it was indeed relaxing.
In Kibale the team could not wait to track the famous chimps. Chimp tracking in Kibale starts early morning 8:00am. Visitors arrive in the morning and by 7:45 registration and all other formalities are completed. Briefing of visitors lasts only for 15 – 20 minutes and by 8:00am everybody that is scheduled for tracking that day sets of to the dropping points. One community has been habituated for tourism and other is under habituation. Unlike gorillas that may last for 2 years to get ready for visitors, chimps take a minimum of 7 years to get habituated.
The habituated community has a population of 120 individuals commanded by the Alpha male called Magezi. A maximum number of 36 visitors clustered in two groups of 6 are allowed to track in a shift. There are two shifts in a day (morning and afternoon shifts) meaning a total number of 72 visitors can track in a day if they are full. Visitors are only allowed to stay with chimps for a duration of 1 hour, this to allow chimps to feed mate etc. The team had a lot of bench marking to do since gorilla tracking and chimp are closely similar activities.
The team BMCA wound up their trip to park by a visit to the Rwenzori mountains national park. They learnt that it is an area of six mountain ranges with Margarita as the highest peak. Margarita peak is covered by snow and Glacier which is the main tourism attraction. The hike to the peak takes about seven days round trip. The communities under the umbrella of Rwenzori Mountaineering Services are involved in taking the tourists for mountaineering as guides and are also involved in maintaining the tourist camps. The trip was successful and it exceedingly empowered, built capacity and had them share experience and knowledge about other parks.