UWA gives communities around Murchison Falls a rare glimpse into the Park, to promote conservation
It was all excitement a fortnight ago, Saturday Sept. 30th, to be precise, as a group of some 300 runners prepared to embark on a major adventure – running inside the celebrated Murchison falls National Park.
Dubbed the Wild Run 2017 was organized by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in partnership with Total E&P and the Federation of Uganda Tourism Initiatives, FUTI-Uganda as part of the campaign to promote the importance and potential benefits of tourism in the local community.
At 8:48am, the gate man at Pakuba started to inspect the vehicles and the tourists on board. About two buses, a range rover, pick up and tour jeep were parked ready to support the runners
The race begun with a brief 5km run that lasted just about one hour. But anxiety among participants for the much longer run was palpable at the end of the first run. Students, from nearby schools of Uganda College of Commerce Pakwach and Pakwach Senior Secondary School joyfully descended from their buses to join the procession. They started from the main gate with a walk then a run through the park to Pakuba Safari lodge.
It was the first time Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) had allowed such a run inside a park.
The sight of elephants grazing in nearby bushes and antelopes dashing from one end to another increased the excitement among runners. A few others though were uncomfortable about the idea of running in the park.
But the former Minister of Information Labwoni Kabakumba Masiko who is also the Executive Director of FUTI-Uganda, offered to reassure the runners that all was secured.
“Do not fear. We have enough security around here and we are running for fun and to create awareness about tourism and wild life conservation in our region and beyond. You can rest or walk till we reach Pakuba Safari Lodge,” said Masiko, as she injected more morale into participants when she announced that winners would get prizes, at the end of the exercise.”
The waiting came to an end when Chris Opoka, one of Uganda’s Representatives in the East African Legislative Assembly, who also presided over as chief runner, finally flagged off the race.
“Please go slow, don’t fall. Please space up. We are all winners here,” Opoka shouted, after making a few brief remarks about the need for locals to embrace tourism and enjoy the beauty of what lies in their region.
The words of caution did little to stop the accidents from happening. Indeed, a few tumbled and dropped out of the race. Fortunately, the Red Cross team was at hand to offer the much-needed medical assistance.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the youthful lads in the park easily beat the seniors as they crossed the finish line at Pakuba Safari lodge in just 30 minutes
For all in the group, the exquisite pristine environment particularly that surrounding the lodge left many visibly happy. The green lawn at Pakuba gives you a feel of the fresh breeze from River Nile
For Concy Achora, a 19 year old resident of Purongo Sub County in Nwoya district. The run was a an exciting adventure or she had never been inside the park to see the animals despite the fact that she lives not far away from the park.
“I always hear people talk about these animals and today, I want to go for a game ride since I have been allowed inside free of charge. We only see Wazugu, coming here,” said Achora.
Patrick Okello Oryema, Nwoya District Chairman added that the run would further open the eyes of community members many of who had never been to a park and so didn’t have motivation for conservation.
“The experience and new look of what is inside the National Park is good. So when one is talking about conserving the environment and respecting wild life, someone who has entered the park will appreciate,” noted Oryema.
Gertrude Gum, the Miss Tourism West Nile region, agreed no less.
“Most of the people are self centred, they fear getting out of their comfort zones to go around and see what lies beyond them. That’s one challenge we have with the wanainci around West Nile tourist sites,” said Gum.
The chief runner, Chris Opoka, and a member of EALA, observed that the coming together of different nationalities to participate in the run was a symbol of commitment and friendship to conserve the environment.
“Pakwack, Nwoya and Bunyoro region coming together like this shows that we are ready to preserve and conserve the environment and wild life around us. Let us run to conserve the environment so that we also feel what takes place inside the national park.”
Tom Okello Obong, the Assistant Director Murchison Conservation Area says Ugandans must conserve wild life to avoid future expenses in tourism.
“Young Generation, we are keeping the natural resources for you. Your children must not fly out of the country to see a Uganda Kop. Some people have seen only photos of these animals and for us we have it here. Why don’t we appreciate and conserve them for our children to also benefit in future?” Okello Wondered.
He added that neighbouring communities look at the park as a quick means of getting money from poaching yet they could use other avenues of getting money with the animal alive.
“Why don’t we interest the world about the beauty that we have here so that when they come here as tourists, we sell to them what we have or offer services to them. There are beautiful African crafts that tourists love to buy. Make them and sell. You will make money out of it to pay school fees and meet other needs.”
He warned poachers; “The other day we caught a Primary six boy who had killed an antelope. If at P6, the boy could kill an antelope alone, what do you think he will kill when he reaches senior two?” Okello asked.
Lilly Adong, the woman Member of Parliament for Nwoya district argued that conservation should not mean protecting wild animals but also the language of the people, good cultural practices that can be admired by tourists.
By 1971, Pakuba area in Murchison Falls National Park was the most visited in Africa with over 6,000 foreign tourists from mostly Great Britain and USA. Today the park receives about 40,000 tourists per year, five years after its renovation after the Lord’s Resistance Insurgency that made the area inaccessible for over twenty years.
The day was crowned with speeches, more selfies and soothing music in the background without the scare of wild animals since the rangers were all over the place, guns in their hands as they smile and wave to whoever cares to smile with them.
Nwoya Woman Member of Parliament, Lilly Adong, Assistant Director, Murchison Conservation Area, Tom Okello Obong together with other local leaders later awarded, silver, bronze and Gold medals to the first three winners of the run in the the male and female categories.
The third, fourth and fifth winners got a yellow 20-liter jerrican and basin each.