Saving Africa’s Lake Victoria wildlife

This video says about itself:

Birds and animals of Subaland, Lake Victoria

27 January 2015

A description in Suba language of popular birds and animals found in Lake Victoria, Subaland, Kenya. Each in its natural habitat and with the local Suba name.

From BirdLife:

16 May 2017

The guardians of Africa’s largest lake

Locals are rallying together to protect Lake Victoria’s valuable wetlands and its inhabitants. The world’s largest tropical lake spans three countries and nourishes both the rich wildlife and the impoverished communities that live around it. But its resources have also attracted less desirable attention – such as traffickers targeting iconic birds such as the Shoebill.

By Louise Jasper

As the sun rises over the Mabamba Bay Wetland on the northwestern shores of Lake Victoria, East Africa, a canoe slowly navigates a winding channel lined with papyrus and reeds. A light mist still clings to the water, and three tourists jump excitedly at every rustle, ripple and flutter of wings as they peer into the dense vegetation. Their guide Julius Musenda, a fisherman from the local village of Kasanje who knows the swamp like the back of his hand, keeps his sharp eyes peeled for the feathered prize they have all come to find.

Mabamba Bay is widely recognised as the best place to see the mysterious Shoebill Balaeniceps rex in Uganda, but a sighting is never guaranteed. Tension is mounting, they must soon return to land to catch their flight and time is growing short. There! He’s spotted one at last: an unmistakeable blue-grey bird with a massive bill and small white eyes, standing still as stone as it waits for its next meal to swim within range. As his clients gasp, focus their binoculars and snap away at their cameras, Julius smiles with relief. His clients will leave Uganda today happy and satisfied; a job well done.

Julius is a member of the Mabamba Bird Guides and Conservation Association, which is in turn part of the Mabamba Wetland Eco-Tourism Association (MWETA), along with two other Local Conservation Groups (LCGs). These community groups are run by volunteers who aim to conserve and sustainably manage the wetlands’ natural resources, and are part of a network of over 2,000 similar groups working at BirdLife Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) around the world.

The Shoebill and a range of other interesting wildlife such as the Blue Swallow Hirundo atrocaerulea, Papyrus Gonolek Laniarius mufumbiri and Sitatunga Antelope Tragelaphus spekii attract ever-increasing numbers of visitors to the swamp, providing vital income for the local people. So in 2013 and 2014 when wildlife traffickers began to target the Shoebill in Mabamba Bay for sale to zoos and private collectors, the community took swift and direct action to stamp out the trade.

The local people were able to act so quickly and confidently because they were well organised and aware of their rights and responsibilities as stewards of the wetland, which is an IBA protected under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and their resources.. They also fostered close relationships with local law enforcement agencies and government bodies, and were able to rely on their support when the need arose.

Vitally, they had the motivation to protect their local patch from those who wished to exploit it for short-term gain. MWETA focused their conservation efforts through the creation of a sophisticated Community Action Plan, with assistance from Nature Uganda (BirdLife Partner in Uganda), which also helped them better understand the importance and value of their natural resources.

Mabamba Bay, like some other wetlands in the area, is not included in Uganda’s official protected area system. Its management therefore lies largely in the hands of local people and civil society organisations such as MWETA, who try to conserve it in the face of serious threats including poaching, pollution, invasive species and agricultural encroachment – problems also affecting the wider Lake Victoria Basin.

The famous lake supports Africa’s largest inland fishery, and its resources and ecosystem services help sustain the livelihoods of tens of millions of people. However, it is this dependence that threatens Lake Victoria’s delicate and diverse ecology, including its remarkable cichlid fish diversity and globally threatened species such as the Shoebill and Papyrus Yellow Warbler Chloropeta gracilirostris. No less than 17 IBAs are directly connected to the lake system, with more found across the Basin.

Due to the high levels of poverty in the densely populated Basin, governments have historically focused on poverty alleviation and increasing GDP, at any cost. Exploitation of natural resources continues apace, and arguments for sustainability tend to lose out in favour of commercial growth. If the government will not stand up for nature, then communities must urge them to do so.

There are numerous LCGs working to protect their own patch of Lake Victoria on a voluntary basis, and BirdLife International, with funding from the Aage V. Jensen Foundation, has released a new report that details how five such groups have been working with decision makers to tackle environmental issues in their area. By sharing their experiences of working with local governments to protect their local IBAs, including Yala Swamp, Kenya; Mabamba Bay and Lutembe Bay, Uganda; Mpungwe Mountains Chain (connected to Ruvubu National Park IBA), Burundi; and Akanyaru Wetlands, Rwanda, other conservation groups in East Africa and beyond can hopefully benefit from their wisdom.

For example, the group Serukubeze (“the ability to do”) is formed mostly of young women who are working hard to protect the Mpungwe Mountain Chain by encouraging local policy makers to take conservation seriously. The Association Burundaise pour la Conservation de la Nature (BirdLife in Burundi) has supported Serukubeze by organising training in fundraising and advocacy, giving members the confidence to engage with decision makers.

In another example, three cooperatives in the Akanyaru Wetlands in neighbouring Rwanda are implementing their Community Adaptation Plan, which aims to rehabilitate and sustainably manage the wetland, improve livelihoods, reduce poverty, and build their capacity to raise funds and influence policy. With the support of Association pour la Conservation de la Nature au Rwanda (BirdLife Partner), the community is working together to improve their quality of life through the sustainable use of their wetlands.

They are taking advantage of the national programme of community service called Umuganda, where on the last Saturday of every month people participate in activities such as street cleaning, tree planting and wetland restoration.

Many rural communities possess a deep well of knowledge about their local environment. Every plant species has a name, and its uses – as food, fuel, medicine or building material – are passed down through the generations. The ebb and flow of the seasons, the lifecycles of animals; these things are not merely the background to everyday life – they are life. This sort of “natural database”, paired with a community’s motivation to safeguard their local natural resources, can be a valuable resource for conservation, if they are recognised and respected.

This motivation is clearly expressed by Julius Musenda: “Mabamba Bay wetland is my only source of income. First through selling fish to the community and tourists, and then through tips when I take them to find the Shoebill. MWETA educates us on the importance of the wetland. Now I see the connection between being a fisherman, bird conservation, tourism, and community development. I have come to regard Mabamba as a community wetland.”

1 thought on “Saving Africa’s Lake Victoria wildlife

  1. Pingback: Snakes and birds on Ugandan island | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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