(This article originally appeared on the GCF’s website. It was part of a 2013 series on conducting field research in Murchison Falls National Park.)
Collaboration and team work has always been watch-words for GCF, and so it was an absolute pleasure to have Patrick Agaba from the Ugandan Conservation Foundation (UCF) come with us to witness and assist in the field research and sample collection. Patrick and UCF have extensive local knowledge of the MFNP and are carrying out some tremendous conservation work in the region. Their in-country support will be invaluable as this project continues to develop.
Less pleasant was the increasingly evident presence of poachers, and their victims, in the Park. UWA and their vet Eric Enyel de-snare all animals they come across, but the injuries can often be quite horrific as the scarred and limping giraffe testify. We also come across a small family her of elephant where two of the youngsters have lost the ends to their trunks. It is with some relief to us all, that despite this evident handicap, both individuals seem to be managing okay thus far.
It is of little surprise I suppose that we somehow get caught up in an arrest of suspected poachers. With a UWA ranger having been killed recently it was understandable how much AK47 waving went on as Allan apprehended the suspects and we transported them in our vehicle to a nearby UWA camp. Equally it made as much sense that we kept well away from a further group of 5 suspected miscreants who were brazenly make their way on foot through the long grass.
The odds were not in Allan’s (or ours!) favour, and so wisely we monitored movements from a safe distance and Allan reported things to head-office. The next day the 5 were caught red-handed, still in the park, in the process of smoking their poached buffalo. That is 7 less on the streets for now, but it would appear there is a problem here that needs addressing, and with some urgency.
With our research progressing nicely we decide it is time for a ‘habitat survey’ of both the north and south sides of the Victoria Nile river bank – some might call this a boat cruise, but I’d rather not be so pedantic… “Hippos are guaranteed, but giraffe doubtful” said our guide as we boarded Paraa Lodge’s African Queen, and he was right! The river was a hive of activity; hippo, buffalo, waterbuck, Ugandan kob, the occasional sunbathing croc, a magnificent bull elephant with enormous tusks reminiscent of a by-gone era and of course abundant birdlife (including several Fish eagle, so I was a happy boy!).
Our survey could only go as far as 17 kilometres east of the Lodge where we are prevented from going further by the roar and splendour and energy that is Murchison Falls. I get lost in thoughts of how Baker and all those early explorers must have felt as they stumbled on this mass of water, from whichever direction. Wonderful, and another one off my bucket-list. Indeed it is so impressive that even Henry gets all touristy on us (pictured left).