Birders in Uganda are spoilt for choice. A new site, Kasenge forest, located off the Kampala- Jinja highway, was launched recently, making it the 35th most important birding site in Uganda.
The launch builds into a strategy by which the country aims to become the most preferred birding destination by 2014. Kasenge is so rich in variety that a group of experienced tourist guides, under the Uganda Safari Guides Association (USAGA), registered 125 bird species within a four - hour tour.
Herbert Byaruhanga, USAGA's chairman, said the forest, measuring over 170 acres, is not only rich in birds species, it is home to two of the 10 rare and most sought-after birds in Uganda - the giant king fisher and Tit Hylia.
"There are so many birders who don't know of Uganda as a big birding destination simply because we have not been coming out to appreciate birds as a business," he said.
Maria Mutagamba, the minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, said the opening of Kasenge kick-started a campaign: 'Declaring Uganda a preferred bird-watching destination 2013-2014' that will see the country throw all its weight towards promoting bird watching. Uganda is regarded as Africa's best birding destination for birders and other nature enthusiasts. The country, which is the size of UK, boasts of over 1,058 bird species, which is 11% of the global and 50% of Africa's bird species.
The African Bird Club ranks Uganda as home to two of the top 10 birding sites on the continent - with Bwindi Impenetrable Forest national park ranking number one and Murchison Falls national Park in the ninth position in Africa. Despite such rankings and the diversity of bird species, though, Uganda continues to attract few birders, who end up spending more compared to other travellers.
According to statistics from Nature Uganda, a birdwatcher spends at least $4,000 (about Shs 10.3m) per trip compared to other travellers whose spending stands at $1,500 (about Shs 3.8m). It is reported that in 2008, less than 2,000 birders spent about $6m (about Shs 15.5bn), nearly twice the $3.3m (Shs 8.5bn) spent on gorilla tracking in Uganda - with the average spending for a birder standing at $3,000 (Shs 7.7m) per trip compared to other travellers' $700 per trip.
This is because birders stay longer in the country, compared to other travellers with their itinerary ranging between 14 and 21 days. There are about 10 million birders moving around the world annually. If Uganda can attract even 1% (one million) of these birders, tour operators are optimistic that the country would be capable of making $4bn annually from birds.
According to Byaruhanga, the country currently has 70 trained bird guides. This is on top of finally developing an official checklist detailing all birds in the country.
"We have not told the world that we now have trained bird guides with modern equipments. We need to tell the world that we have reached the international standard," he said.
Birdlife International, a global programme on conservation of birds and their habitats, and Nature Uganda, indicate that there are 34 important bird areas in Uganda with diverse bird species. The country, however, faces challenges, especially on conversation. Mutagamba says we continue to lose bird species largely due to persecution and habitat loss.
This, according to Mutagamba, is through destruction of forests, commercial logging, mining, encroachment and extraction of forest products; firewood, building poles, medical plants, among others. For example, Lutembe Ramsar site in Namulanda-Kawuku along Entebbe road, which used to be a resting place for migratory birds escaping winter in Europe, is today severely degraded by investors.