Conservation Education Manual
For the guides of
Murchison Falls Conservation Area
Mark D. Jordahl
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Table of Contents
Hystrix cristata (Crested Porcupine) 35
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Section 1 – Conservation Education
Conservation of wildlife and other natural resources in Uganda will not be successful without the support and involvement of the global community. When you interact with visitors to the park, you have an opportunity to enlist them as helpers in your work to protect Murchison Falls. This is known as Conservation Education. The definition used by Disney’s Animal Kingdom is, “Conservation Education is the process of positively influencing people’s knowledge, attitudes, emotions and behaviors about wildlife and wild places, conducted by trained professionals.” You are not only a guide, you are also a teacher with one of the most incredible classrooms in the world. No visitor should leave the park without a conservation message in their mind.
It is important to think in advance what concepts you want to get across to your clients. I have some suggestions here, but I encourage you to draw on your own experience and ideas about conservation to decide what you believe is important for visitors to know. It is useful to just pick one or two ideas to get across and repeat them during the time you are with your clients rather than trying to cover too many things. This way, it is more likely that people will remember your message. Here are some potential messages:
The main threat to the East African environment is poverty. The image that many people in the west have of conservation in Africa is that it is a war between rangers and poachers with high-powered rifles, who are after ivory to sell on the black market. They believe the answer is to keep locals out of the parks and to create places with no human influence beyond tourism infrastructure. You have an opportunity to broaden that view. Teach them about community conservation efforts. Let them know that conservation won’t work without local involvement and that most of the negative impacts that local people have on the park result from them just trying to survive. Focusing on poverty reduction and population control (much of the poverty in Uganda can be tied to the rapidly growing population) are critical for the conservation of wildlife.
Biodiversity is nature’s survival strategy. Although most people today have heard the term “biodiversity,” many don’t understand why it is important. A forest is a forest, right? Isn’t it the same if we cut down a natural forest and plant pine or eucalyptus which will grow quickly and can be used for firewood or building? Isn’t it still a forest? Why does it matter if we have ten species of birds in this area rather than one hundred?
What happens if there is a disease that affects one particular species of tree? In a mixed forest, there are other species that will survive and the forest habitat will still be mostly intact. Also, most modern and traditional medicines come from forest plants and trees. Most species have never even been tested for medicinal uses, and we may be losing the cure for AIDS and other diseases without even knowing it.
What if one of the bird species that disappears is the one that spreads the seeds of a particular plant that is important for local medicines? What if that species fed on insects that destroy crops and no other birds feed on that particular insect?
Protecting the biodiversity of an area is about protecting the health of the whole system.
Conservation efforts, if they are to be successful, need to involve local people.
It is important to involve locals for both logistical and ethical reasons. From a logistical point of view, the park does not have the resources to patrol the entire park to keep people from illegally entering or collecting resources. It is only through gaining the support of the locals for the conservation mission of the park that it will be possible to meet the conservation goals. They may also have perspectives on proposed solutions to issues that outsiders may not have thought of.
From an ethical point of view, conservation has an impact on the local people. They may be prevented from collecting resources that they have relied on for survival, or they may be prevented from cultivating additional land. People should have a voice in things that will affect them. This does not mean that decisions made will always be ones they agree with, but they will at least have a voice.
Conservation projects need to look long-term. Historically, when people living near a lot of wildlife in Africa heard the word “conservation,” it meant they were about to be kicked off their land. Understandably, because of this history, it takes time to build trust. It also takes time to change attitudes, and sometimes it is even the next generation that might make the change happen. If conservation organizations cut off funding to a project after one or two years because they haven’t seen “results,” that is too short a time to know if the project was working or not. Ask your clients if they currently donate to a conservation organization and ask them, next time they send in their membership money, to include a note encouraging the organization to fund long-term projects that involve local people.
Conservation in the developing world is a global responsibility. Something like two-thirds of the world’s biodiversity exists in developing world countries. Much of the money and other resources that will be necessary to protect that biodiversity exist in the developed countries. All of the wealthy nations need to make a serious commitment to conservation both within and beyond their own borders.
If your clients leave with one of these messages in mind, their experience in the park will carry over into their lives back home. Their perspective on conservation in Africa will hopefully have expanded, and they will think about it differently next time they hear a story in the news or in a magazine about African wildlife and wild lands conservation. And, again, these are just a few suggestions. I am sure you have ideas of your own about what conservation messages are important to get across to visitors. The most important thing to remember is that you are in the best position to educate visitors about conservation and that you are not finished until you have delivered a conservation message to your clients. The next page gives some suggestions regarding how to deliver an effective message:
7 C’s of Behavior Change Communication
by Joseph KB Matovu
Institute of Public Health
The following are things to think about that will help you to be effective when you are teaching your clients about conservation in and around the park:
Command Attention: Effective messages should be daring enough to attract attention and elicit comment. Bold statements like “Poverty is the main threat to the environment in Africa” can draw people into a conversation where you can share more information.
Cater to the heart and head: A message that arouses emotion is effective because people learn better when their emotions are aroused. Tell your clients stories about growing up in the area – make it personal.
Clarify the message: A message should be clear. Too much information or multiple themes can distract your audience. A single, clear and complete message is best.
Communicate a benefit: Some people need strong motivation to act – they need to see why conservation will benefit them. For these people, it will be important to make it clear that the earth’s systems are all connected and that what happens to the environment in Africa will affect the rest of the world. Protecting the environment also relates to growing food and maintaining clean water, which is essential for the survival of people and the prevention of wars.
Create trust: A message that people will act on should come from sources they trust. If you act like a professional and show that you are knowledgeable, they will be more likely to trust what you say.
Call for action: Once convinced that the promised benefit is worth pursuing, people need to know what to do. A list of actions they can take follows in this manual.
Consistency check: A message that is repeated many times becomes familiar and people come to understand it.
A way to remember the issues and the solutions…
There are certain pressures that create challenges for the environment around the world. Although these issues take on different forms in different parts of the world, they are fairly universal and are making it harder for the earth’s systems to continue to function properly. The model used by the Roots and Shoots program in Tanzania is the “HIPPO” Dilemma. If you think about it, I bet you can fit most of Uganda’s environmental challenges into one of these categories:
Habitat loss – This is the cause for many animals becoming endangered. Although many are killed through poaching, their overall populations are at risk because they are losing places they can safely live, and the food and water sources that support them.
Introduced species – With so much international travel and trade happening now, plant and animal species are brought into areas where they don’t belong. Sometimes this happens by accident, and sometimes it is done on purpose. Often, there are no natural predators to keep these species’ populations under control, so they take over and make it impossible for the native species to survive. This reduces the biodiversity of an area.
Pollution – This can come in the forms of air pollution, which can cause diseases in people and animals as well as killing trees; water pollution, which can kill fish on which people rely, or can make people sick who eat the fish; and pollution on land, which can take the form of chemical spills from factories, or even chemical fertilizers which are meant to increase crops but may end up killing animals or making people sick as well as washing into rivers and lakes when it rains, where they become a form of water pollution.
Population growth – Right now, Uganda has the third fastest growing population in the world! The current population is over 26 million people, and it is predicted that twenty years from now there will be over 50 million! Where will all those people live? What will they eat? Even if every acre of forest and other protected area were converted to farmland, it would be a very short-term solution unless the population rate is brought under control. The land will not expand to fit an increasing population!
Over-consumption – All living things use resources to survive, and all resources, except perhaps for the sun, are limited. In the developed world people tend to use WAY too many resources per person. In the developing world, even though individuals are not using many resources, the high rates of population growth often mean there are not enough resources available to support everyone.
I would even add a third “P” – Poverty. It makes all of these issues more challenging and reduces people’s options. People don’t just want to hear about problems, though. Your job is to let people know that there are solutions, and that they can help. The Cincinnati Zoo in the United States came up with an easy way to remember some of the solutions:
The Elephant’s Solution…
Environmental Education – This is what you are doing. People all around the world, kids and adults, need to be taught how we impact the planet and what we can do to protect it. As a guide at Murchison Falls, you are part of the solution.
Laws Protecting Wildlife – People need to be familiar with these laws. Some tourists bring endangered animal products out of countries without even knowing it is illegal. Much poaching could be stopped if people would stop buying products from endangered animals.
Ecosystem-level Research – If a research project focuses on a single species (like the lion project at Murchison), it is important that it is looked at in terms of how it connects to the entire ecosystem. A lion can only be protected if the ecosystem that supports it is protected.
Population Planning – Countries with high birth rates need to begin controlling their populations NOW. If Uganda’s population doubles to 50 million in the next twenty years, it will put huge pressure on the environment. Smaller families also make it easier to send children to school and to pass on land or other possessions to them.
Habitat Protection – The remaining intact forests and other wild ecosystems need to be protected. Let your clients know how difficult it is to operate protected areas on limited budgets and encourage them to contribute to conservation organizations.
Alternative Income for Local People – Developing sustainable community-based projects to provide alternative income for local people reduces pressures on natural areas. This also includes selling sustainably-produced crafts in the park.
Native Species, not Introduced Species – Make efforts to remove introduced species that may be damaging the environment and prevent new ones from coming in.
Technical Training in Conservation – It is important for local people to get the training necessary to know how to protect the environment. This may include better farming practices, tree planting, water conservation, wildlife management, and many other things.
Sustainable Use of Wild Places and Species – We all need to use resources to survive. By finding a way to use resources without destroying them, people will get what they need and the environment will get what it needs. It is possible to create this balance between people and the environment.
The overall message is that people need to take action if we are to keep the environment healthy. The next pages give suggestions of some specific things that your clients can do that will help with conservation here in Uganda.
What can visitors do to help?
People often want to help with conservation, but don’t know what to do or feel that the issues are too big for them to do anything about. Here are some things you can say to people about how they can help contribute to the conservation of wildlife in East Africa. If they seem interested, you may want to share all ten. If they don’t seem that interested, just pick one or two to share with them:
You are already helping! Make sure they know that 20% of park entrance fees go into local communities through the revenue-sharing program. This only works if people come to the park, and the more people that come, the more help it gives. Tell them to spread the word that Uganda is a wonderful place to visit and to encourage their friends to come.
Buy locally and support responsible tour operators. Visitors can have a big impact by choosing where to spend their money. By purchasing local crafts, they are giving the local people a reason to support the presence of the park and to help protect the animals and forests. They should also use tour operators that follow park rules and contribute some of their profits back into conservation of the areas and communities they visit.
Learn about the environmental issues of your own place – it’s a global picture. We need to protect the environment around the world, since all of the earth’s systems are connected. That means that they can help the planet everywhere by protecting wild places near where they live. They can also plant native plants and trees in their own yards to provide necessary food for local birds and mammals and decide not to use chemical fertilizers on their yards.
Work to combat global warming. We each make hundreds of choices every day that have a positive or negative effect. Driving less, buying fuel-efficient cars, and insulating houses in cold climates all help to reduce people’s impact on global warming. The changes in the world’s climate will continue to cause devastating droughts and storms if we don’t all work to replace forests and reduce our environmental impacts.
Interact with the locals when you travel. Tell them why you came so far to see what’s in their backyard. Studies show that this simple act can have a huge impact on their environmental attitudes and behaviors. It will also make the visit more satisfying and interesting for them.
Learn how the economic and trade policies of your own country affect the developing world. Remember – the biggest threat to the environment in East Africa is poverty!! If they buy products from the developing world when they are back in their home countries, they should look for products that are sold at Fair Trade prices and find out if their governments are putting unfair restrictions on products coming from Africa.
Follow park rules. They are in place for a reason. It may seem unimportant since the numbers of visitors are so low, but those numbers will hopefully increase. Driving off-track can prevent animals from hunting for food, or cause them stress that will use up energy they can’t afford to lose. It can also kill vegetation, reducing the food that is available, and expose the soil to be dried by the sun and blown away by the wind. Litter can be eaten by animals and cause them to be sick or even kill them.
Contribute to conservation organizations. Managing protected areas is very expensive. Most of the world’s biodiversity exists in countries that can’t afford proper education, health care and sanitation for their people, and they are often passing up opportunities to make money off the resources in these protected areas. It is not fair to expect these countries to bear the full cost of conservation. Supporting a global protected area system that would conserve most of the world’s biodiversity would cost $13 billion per year. That amount equals about one-fifth of what Americans spend on soda each year.
Think before you buy. People should not buy products that are made with wood from endangered trees or from old-growth forests. They should buy products made with recycled or organic materials whenever possible. They should not buy from companies that are doing great damage to the environment. This will involve some research on their part – they need to find out how or where their products were made, and they will need to see what companies have ethical business practices.
What else do you think you can do? Ask your clients if they can think of anything else they can do to help with conservation in Uganda and elsewhere. They may come up with creative ideas that you can share with future clients.
Some important questions about conservation…
Why is “biodiversity” important?
First of all, it’s important to define “biodiversity.” It is the variety of living things in an area. This means both a variety of different species and a variety of individuals within each species. Why is it important? Diversity is the earth’s survival strategy. If a disease totally destroys a particular kind of bird or tree, a healthy ecosystem will have a replacement ready to fill its role. If a disease hits a tree plantation that only has one kind of tree, there is nothing to replace the dead trees. The system will break down. It is also important to have enough variety within a species to maintain a good breeding population that has healthy genes.
What is the difference between a “habitat” and an “ecosystem”?
When you think about a habitat, you should think about an individual living thing. Its habitat is the area that provides all of the things it needs to survive – food, water, shelter, space, and others of its own kind to mate with. An ecosystem is a community of living things that interact with each other and the non-living things in that environment. So, there may be many habitats within a given ecosystem, and there may be many ecosystems within a particular habitat. When trying to do conservation, it is important to look at the whole ecosystem – if too many pieces of the system disappear, the whole thing will stop working.
Why is one big section of forest better than many small sections?
There is an ecological concept called “edge effect”. What it means is that there are some species that are adapted to live at the edge of forests, and some that are adapted to live in the deep center of a forest. By cutting a forest into small pieces, you are creating more “edges.” This means that sunlight can get to more parts of the forest which will dry out the ground more, leading to drought and making it harder for plants and animals that don’t like direct sunlight to survive.
Why is so much money spent on protecting individual endangered species?
It isn’t. Most of the endangered species that gain a lot of attention are “umbrella species”. This means that by protecting the habitat of these animals, you also protect the habitat of countless other species that live in the same area. The only way to preserve a species is by preserving the system that supports it. These animals become endangered because the system that supports them is losing its integrity. However, it is easier for people to get interested in an animal like an elephant or a gorilla than for them to get interested in a system, so they become the public face of the conservation effort. The ultimate goal, though, is to protect the whole systems that support the endangered species.
How do intact forests help to maintain water supply for humans?
Forests are critically important for many reasons, including providing building materials, medicines, habitat for wildlife, tourism opportunities, etc. Sometimes it is difficult, though, to understand why forests help to maintain the water supplied used by people. Here are just a few of the ways forests protect our water supply:
Erosion control – Trees growing on steep hillsides prevent the soil from running off the hill and into rivers, streams and lakes. This keeps the water cleaner for drinking and washing, and also helps fish survive, which are an important source of food.
Slowing rainfall – Forests prevent flash-floods. When rain falls on the canopy of a forest, it takes a while for the water to filter down to the ground. Not only does this mean that the water reaches the ground over a longer period of time (allowing more to soak into the ground rather than running off into streams), it also means that the rain hits the ground more gently which means it will not wash away the soil. This allows “groundwater” sources (water that is found underground, which is what people get from wells) to refill. Trees also take a lot of that water up through their roots, leaving less to run off.
Providing shade – The thick canopy of the forest keeps direct sunshine from reaching the ground. If the trees were cut down and the sun was shining directly on the ground, it would quickly evaporate any water that was remaining in the soil. Many species of animal, plant and fungus that have adapted to live in the forest rely on a wet environment to survive.
Moderating the temperature and returning moisture to the air – Ever wonder why it rains so much in a rainforest? Most people can figure out that the forest is able to grow because of so much rain falling, but fewer people figure out that it works both ways. Trees send much of that water back into the air through a process called “transpiration”, which means that moisture is evaporating out of the leaves and going back into the air. That moisture comes down once again as rain. When forests are cut down it rains less and less until, eventually, the area that was once a rainforest becomes a desert.
What’s the difference between “preserving” and “conserving”?
“Preserving” means protecting an area and keeping it natural. “Conserving” means managing and using wisely. We need a combination of both. It is very popular now for protected areas to have a central area that is “preserved” and kept untouched by humans, and an area on the borders that is open to limited use. This is a way of meeting both the needs of humans and wildlife.
Section 2 - General Guiding Skills
Every interaction you have with a visitor, whether they are your client or not, reflects upon the park. If you act like a professional, you will be seen and treated as a professional.
Don’t ask for school fees. You have entered into a professional arrangement with your clients. If you are interested in going back for more schooling, it is fine to mention that in terms of how it will make you better at your job, but it is not your client’s responsibility to help pay for it. Make them feel uncomfortable or guilty and they will not feel as generous when it comes time to give you a tip.
Set appropriate tour expectations
This is another comment that came up frequently in my research with visitors to the park. Many people thought that more information should have been given at the beginning, in the form of an orientation.
Give and get as much information as possible at the beginning. What are people’s goals? Do they have a favorite animal they really want to see? Have they been on a safari before? Are they interested in birds? Is this their first time at Murchison Falls?
“We will do our best to find lions, but they are wild animals, so I can’t guarantee it. The best place to see lions is on the delta, and the best time to see them is early, so we will be driving fairly quickly out to the delta this morning. Don’t worry, though, once we get there and on our way back, we will be taking our time to observe all of the animals we see. Here are some guidelines so that we can all stay safe.”
Let them know that they should stay in the vehicle at all times unless you have told them they are in a safe place. Let them know the park rules in advance, such as not driving off-track and not littering – this may avoid uncomfortable situations later when you see a leopard 200 meters away and they want to go over to it (and you never let them do that, right?).
Let them know about how long it will take to get out to the delta and how much time they should expect to be out to have the best chance of seeing a lot of wildlife.
This can not be said strongly enough!!
Every time you go out on a game drive or a launch trip, the clients should feel that you are as excited as they are to be seeing the animals. Your attitude can have a strong influence on their experience. If you go out and don’t find a lion, don’t act like it was a waste of a trip. Be knowledgeable and excited about the things you do see, and you can get them excited. Help them feel like they learned something, even if they don’t see a lion, and they will be happy.
It can be difficult to get excited when you are going out on the same tracks every day and seeing the same animals. To keep yourself interested and excited, set a goal of learning one new thing each day for yourself through observing the animals. Come back and share it with the other guides. This will not only keep you interested out there, it will also improve your skills as a guide.
Practice your communication skills.
Make sure you are being understood. Language can be a big challenge when you are taking out people from different countries, who speak different languages, the engine of the vehicle is running, and you may not feel totally confident in your own English. Try to speak slowly and clearly, and feel free to ask people if they are understanding you. If they seem to be having a lot of trouble understanding you in the first half hour, you may need to check in with them throughout the time. If you’ve asked a few times and they don’t seem to be having trouble understanding, then you don’t have to worry about it.
Communication is more than just what we say. Just like with animals, a lot of what we communicate is non-verbal. If you are excited about what you are seeing, it will show in your face and your body.
Practice the conservation messages that you want to start using with clients. Say them to the other guides and see if they make sense and ask them for suggestions on how you can improve.
Engage your clients on a personal level
Ask your clients about their lives. There is often a long period of time at the beginning of a game drive, when you are driving out to the delta and not seeing many animals. This is a great time to ask them where they are from (have them point to it on the globe before the game drive), what kind of work they do, why they are in Uganda, where else they have been, etc. Over time, you will begin to learn about the places they came from and the type of work they do and be able to engage future clients in conversations when you find somebody else from the same place or who does the same kind of work. Showing that you have this broader knowledge will increase their trust in you, so that they will be more able to receive your conservation messages.
Learn their names and make sure they know yours.
If they have kids along, make sure you talk to and engage them, too. You can give small challenges to the kids. Have them find:
A male and female of one kind of animal
A young animal
The biggest of a particular type of animal
An antelope that is missing one antler
An animal that likes to spend time in the water
A bird that has at least four colors on it
A bird that rides on other animals
An animal’s footprint (track) in the road
An animal that “grazes” – (eats grass)
An animal that “browses” – (eats from trees and bushes)
Use effective questioning techniques
Make people think. They will feel more satisfied at the end of a game drive or launch trip if they feel that they have used their brains a bit. If you see two kob chasing each other, ask your clients why they think they are doing that. If you see a tree that has been knocked over by an elephant, ask them what they think happened to the tree. By drawing them in with a question, they will be paying much better attention when you tell them what is actually going on. And, if they answer correctly, you have accomplished two things: 1. You’ve learned something about the knowledge level of your clients and 2. You’ve made them feel smart. Don’t overdo this, though. Just ask questions once in a while.
Don’t always wait for people to ask you questions about what you are seeing. For many visitors, this is their first safari ever. Everything is new, and they don’t even know what questions to ask. In my research, one of the main areas for improvement mentioned by visitors was wanting the guides to offer more information rather than waiting to be asked.
Again, you are a teacher. Why are these animals here and not over there? Which are male and which are female? Is that one trying to mate with the other one, or is he chasing him/her away? They hired you because you know about this park.
Know how to handle challenging visitor situations and sensitive issues
One of the main comments I got from guides was wishing people wouldn’t ask political questions or questions about areas in Uganda that you don’t know about. It is fine to just tell people that you don’t feel comfortable answering a particular question or that you don’t know the answer to what they are asking. You can refer them to park headquarters (be sure to let them know where that is!). If you do choose to answer a political question, make sure they know you are just answering for yourself, and that it is not the official stance of the park. Another option is to just highlight the conservation effects of the conflict (transients, poaching, population, etc) rather than getting into the politics of it.
Remember that you are the authority. If a client is about to put themselves into a dangerous situation, you not only have the right, but the responsibility to prevent them from doing so. Ask nicely at first, but if they continue to put themselves or an animal at risk, you should demand that they stop.
Pay attention to what is happening out there and share interesting wildlife interactions
In general, the people who come to the parks don’t even know what they are looking for. When you notice the animals doing something interesting, point it out to them! If antelopes are exhibiting mating or territorial behavior, explain that to the guests. Otherwise, they will just be looking for the lion and will miss all the interesting interactions that are happening around them.
One of my favorite tricks, when a group is captivated by a certain animal, is to look around and see what else is happening behind us or to the sides. If you point out something else that is going on that is interesting, they will be amazed how much you notice that they didn’t.
Pay attention to the birds. They will often point out where the predators are, and visitors will love to learn about this relationship. Let them know that that is partly why large mammals allow birds to ride on their backs – they are an alarm system.
Have a strong knowledge base
Learn as much as you possibly can about the birds, mammals, plants and the history of the park. People want to feel like they got their money’s worth. And, if you can make them feel like there is much more to learn than they were able to take in on this trip, they will want to come back.
Learn the birds!! Many people come here specifically for the birds, but many have never thought about them until now. You can help them have a totally satisfying trip by pointing out some of the amazing birds in the park, and you may turn them into birders.
Take advantage of “Teachable Moments”
A “teachable moment” is a situation that you did not plan, but that provides you an opportunity to teach your clients. A long game drive provides many opportunities to educate visitors in an informal way. Here are just a few of the many ways you can take advantage of “teachable moments”:
If a group wants to go off-track, explain to them why it is against the rules. Most people are willing to follow rules if they know why the rules are in place. They may simply not understand that even if the animals are not visibly disturbed, you may be changing their behavior, keeping them from feeding, damaging the vegetation that you are driving over, and negatively affecting other people’s views. In addition to that, people have severely impacted the lives of these animals already, which is why they are mostly now only found in game parks, and it is respectful to allow them some privacy when they are trying to get away from the vehicles. You are also setting a bad precedent for other people who may decide to go off-track because they saw others off-track. Although the numbers of visitors to Murchison Falls are still relatively low, those numbers will increase, and when that happens, it will be even more of a problem if people are ignoring the off-tracking rule.
If you see trash on the ground, or even if one of the people in your group throws trash out of the window, ask the driver to stop. Don’t blame them or say anything negative, just pick up the trash and continue on your way. You will be modeling good conservation behavior. You will have taught them more through the action of picking up the rubbish than you could have through anything you might say.
Ask them if they know that 20% of their entrance fees go directly to the boundary communities through the revenue-sharing program. This will hopefully begin a conversation where you can talk to them about the communities living around the park. What is their relationship to the park? How are they affected by it? What are the revenue-sharing funds used for? Everyone should hear that their entrance fees contributed to schools or health clinics. It is OK for them to also hear that it is not enough money to really solve the issues and that more is needed.
When the game drive or launch trip is finished, encourage them to do other activities, like chimp walks or bird walks in Kaniyo-Pabidi and Busingiro. Also tell them to encourage their friends to come to the park.
Let people know about the history and changes that have happened in the park over the last 40 years. It is interesting, and they will be glad to know that the land and the animals are recovering.
Feel comfortable saying “I don’t know”
Nobody can know everything, and it is better to admit to that than to knowingly give incorrect answers to questions. If you answer something incorrectly and somebody else in the group knows the right answer, it will take a while to regain their trust. If you have an idea, but aren’t sure, just say “I think it is like this, but I could be wrong” or “It’s one of the bee-eaters, but I don’t know which one.” People will respect you more for this than for pretending to know everything.
If you are asked a question and don’t know the answer, remember it and try to find the answer later. That way, next time somebody asks you that question, you won’t have to say “I don’t know.”
Encourage and value feedback
You like receiving tips, right? I can guarantee that happy clients are bigger tippers than those who are not satisfied. Each time you go out with a group, ask them if there is anything you could have done better. They will appreciate the fact that you are trying to improve your skills, and their suggestions may help you satisfy your next clients.
Section 3 – Selected Wildlife
Most of these animals can be found at Murchison Falls. A few additional mammals have been included for general interest. I encourage you to write notes on these pages from your own experiences and observations with the wildlife in the park. YOU ARE THE EXPERTS! This is just some information I have gathered from books and some of my own personal observations – I hope you find it useful and continue to add to it.
Orycteropus afer (Aardvark)
It seems that this animal has not been extensively studied. The name of its order, Tubulidentata is a derivation of the structure of its teeth. At birth, they begin with a full complement of milk teeth, including canines. By adulthood, however, they have only a set of molars at the back of their mouths that do not have enamel, and that are composed of densely packed tubes surrounded by columns of dentine and then wrapped in a sleeve of dental cement. (Kingdon, p. 294)
They are a tie to the earliest evolutionary common ancestor of tapirs, rhinos, horses, hyraxes, elephants and artiodactyls (even-toed ungulates). (Kingdon, p. 294)
The shape of the head is influenced by their olfactory structure. There are “minutely convoluted bones and tissue that radiate from the olfactory lobes fo the forebrain.” The nose also has tentacles to aid in smelling insects. (Kingdon, p. 295)
Females’ faces and tail are pale or white, males’ are darker. (Kingdon, p. 295)
Extremely long ears for hearing insects underground. Tongue is 45 cm long (same as a giraffe)! (Walker, p. 112)
Size: (Kingdon, p. 294)
Head and body length: 100 – 158 cm
Tail length: 44 – 63 cm
Height: 58 – 66 cm
Weight: 40 – 82 kg
Found throughout SSA except for in rainforest areas. They are most plentiful in areas with a year-round supply of ants, termites and dung-beetles. They avoid areas with hard or stony soils or regularly flooded areas because they burrow underground during the day. (Kingdon, p. 295)
Termites, ants, larvae. They get most of their food from the surface, but may excavate deeply into termitaries and ant hills. The glut of termites during the rainy season allows them to build a layer of fat to help them through the leaner times. The tongue is very sticky, and aardvarks use it to “sweep” insects into their mouths and swallow them with little or no chewing. The stomach is muscular and gizzard-like, so the insects are processed there. (Kingdon, p. 295)
Gestation is 7 months. Generally one, occasionally 2 young are born naked, but with eyes open. They follow the mother after 2 weeks, start eating insects after 3 months, become independent at 6 months and sexually active at 2 years. (Kingdon, p. 295)
Primarily solitary and nocturnal, but females may be accompanied by 1-3 offspring. If an area has an extensive warren system, there may be several aardvarks sharing the warren, but their interactions are still very limited. (Kingdon, p. 295)
Odor on the body seems to be used to maintain spacing between individuals, but scent-marking of objects has not been observed. Their only vocal signals are a grunt and, if severely threatened, a bleat. (Kingdon, p. 295)
They dig two different types of holes. They have temporary “camping holes”, which may only be up to 3 meters in length. These are the most frequent. They also create very complex warrens, which can have eight or more entrances and go as deep as 6 meters. The openings are usually plugged during the day, sometimes with a vent at the top of the opening. (Kingdon, p. 295)
Primarily nocturnal and rarely seen.
18 years. (Kingdon, p. 295)
Their burrows with tracks leading in and out are most commonly seen sign. Feces are small, oblong, and almost completely made of sand. Droppings are usually covered after being deposited. (Walker, p. 112)
Humans, leopards and lions. (Walker, p. 112)
They have been eliminated from many agricultural areas, as their holes are difficult for tractors, livestock and dams. Cultivation also tends to eliminate their food supply. The loss of their holes has an impact on other animals that rely on them, such as bats, small carnivores, reptiles and birds, warthogs, pythons, porcupines, jackals, hyenas, leopards, wild dogs and wild cats. Considered vulnerable overall, locally extinct in many areas. (Kingdon, p. 295, Walker, p. 112)
Hunted in many areas for food. (Walker, p. 112)
Aonyx capensis (African clawless otter)
This otter can become very large. It is dark brown, with white under the throat and chest. They have minimal fingernails (hence “clawless”), and the description says unwebbed toes, although the picture showed webbing. Very similar to the swamp otter, which is found in Congo. (Kingdon, p.234)
According to Walker, the hind feet are partly webbed, which makes sense, as otters primarily propel themselves through the water using hind feet. (Walker, p. 63)
Forefeet are naked on the underside, unwebbed, and have opposable thumbs for finding and manipulating food under water. Hind feet are partially webbed. (Estes, p. 441)
Size: (Kingdon, p. 234)
Head and body length: 72 – 92 cm
Tail length: 40 – 71 cm
Weight: 12 – 34 kg
Rivers, streams, marshes, lakes with adequate cover along shoreline. Swamps and intertidal zone on the coast. In some areas crocodiles keep them out of otherwise appropriate habitat. (Kingdon, p. 235)
Often absent from large or fast-moving rivers. Can also live in saltwater, but only on rocky coasts or in mangrove swamps near freshwater. Spends more time in water than spotted-necked otter. (Estes, p. 441)
The only study done specifically on this so far was done on the coast, where home range was estimated to be up to 19.5 km of coastline. This may not be at all representative of the species, though, since most live in inland freshwater ecosystems. There seems to be overlap between ranges of different males, and it is postulated that these are related clan-members. One study was done in Tanzania where three distinct groups (families?) were known to use a 5 km stretch of river for at least 25 years. (Estes, p. 442)
Freshwater crabs are main staple. They are able to dig them out when they bury themselves during the dry season, and so become a year-round food source. They will also eat frogs, fish, small mammals, birds and mollusks. (Kingdon, p. 235)
They are able to catch crabs and frogs just as easily in muddy water as in clear water, but it takes four times as long to catch fish in muddy water. It has been assumed that this indicates that fish are found by sight, whereas crabs and frogs are located mainly by touch. (Estes, p. 443)
The palms and fingers have rough skin, which enables them to grab fish and frogs securely. It can eat while in the water (as opposed to spotted-necked otter), and even under water. (Estes, p. 443)
Gestation is about 2 months, and 2-3 young may be born at a time. Births happen any time of year. They stay in a den for at least the first month (until their eyes open), and then begin to venture out with the mother staying in constant vocal contact. (Estes, p. 445)
Usually forage singly or as mother with offspring. If food is plentiful, though, adults will interact and it is possible that related “clans” share territory along a river. (Kingdon, p. 236)
They are very playful, and will slide down hills just for fun, as well as throw rocks into the water and catch them on their heads before letting them hit the bottom. (Estes, p. 445)
There have not been extensive studies done on their social organization.
Wide range of whistles and squeals (contact), chirping bark (greeting), moans mews and sniffles (young coercing adults). (Kingdon, p. 236)
The range of vocalizations is more similar to the other large otters than with the spotted-necked otter and other fishing otters. (Estes, p. 444)
Scent marking with anal glands is common, as well as rolling/rubbing (musking) in grass, sandbanks, earth ledges and rocks near regularly-used latrines. Their scat is sticky and may be deposited on vertical rock walls. (Estes, p. 444)
If disturbed, their whole posture and all of their vocalizations indicate fury and are apparently quite intimidating. Considered to be one of the most formidable animals for it’s size, comparable in orneriness to the ratel, but bigger and more flexible. Females with cubs will attack people or predators, and have been known to drag dogs into the water and drown them. (Estes, p. 445)
May be active day or night, with peaks in late afternoon and early morning. (Estes, p. 442)
Dung deposits full of crushed crabshells and catfish bones. Also look for slides in mud alongside waterways, similar to North American river otter, and crushed mussel shells on rocks. (Kingdon, p. 235)
Scat is up to 5 cm long, often found in middens, and larger and darker than spotted-necked otter. (Walker, p. 62)
Most fish and frogs are eaten head-first, except for ones with particularly large or hard heads, in which case the head may be left uneaten. (Estes, p. 444)
Widespread, but becoming extinct in many areas due to hunting for fur and in retaliation for raiding fish farms. Dogs are becoming an increasing threat. (Kingdon, p. 236)
Mungos mungo (Banded Mongoose)
Visually, mongooses are the African equivalent of the weasel. The banded mongoose is grayish-brown with clear bands across its back, relatively long tail and pointed snout. The legs and face are darker than the back. (Personal observations)
Color varies by habitat. Darker and larger in moist habitats, lighter and smaller in dryer areas. (Kingdon, p. 247)
There are four main, regional types, the East African subspecies is M.m.colonus. (Kingdon, p. 247)
Replaced by the suricate in drier parts of Botswana and Namibia. (Estes, p. 315)
Size: (Kingdon, p. 247)
Head and body length: 30 – 45 cm
Tail length: 15 – 30 cm
Weight: 1.5 – 2.25 kg
Woodlands, savannah, acacia scrublands, grasslands and cultivated areas. They like areas with a lot of termite activity, as they convert their mounds into burrows. (Kingdon, p. 247)
Throughout East and Central Africa, as well as a belt between the Sahara and the rainforests, where they have adapted to areas of cultivation. (Kingdon, p. 247)
Packs possess exclusive territories up to 130 hectares, but there is continual competition along boundaries between territories. (Kingdon, p. 248)
During a day of foraging, a pack will cover 2-3 km per day in Uganda, and up to 10 km per day in the Serengeti. (Estes, p. 316)
Termites, beetle larvae, small vertebrates. (Kingdon, p. 248)
Also millipedes, earwigs, ants, crickets, spiders, mice, toads, bird eggs, lizards, snakes. Vertebrates make up a very small part of their diet. Water is consumed sparingly by licking wetted paws. (Estes, p. 315)
2-month gestation, up to 4 young born per litter. Any lactating female will suckle young. (Kingdon, p. 248)
Most births happen during the rainy season. Multiple females come into estrus and mate with multiple males during a six-day estrus. Females begin breeding at 11 months, and within the pack there may be up to 4 litters per year (not each individual female). Eyes open after 9 days, they leave the den at 3-4 weeks, and by 5 weeks they join the pack on all foraging outings. By six weeks they have adult coloration. (Estes, p. 317)
Males play a large role in training the young to forage. (Estes, p. 317)
Live in packs of up to 40 members, but if it goes beyond 40, it will break into smaller bands of 15 – 20. Packs generally include one breeding male and 3 or 4 breeding females. Hierarchy is based on size and attitude rather than gender. (Kingdon, p. 248)
Occasionally there are multiple breeding males in a pack. Dominant pairs are probably determined by seniority. Female offspring may stay in natal pack, but males generally emigrate. (Estes, p. 315)
Males are more aggressive to other packs and scent-mark more often than females. The packs tend to be closed to outsiders, and in one study in Uganda, no outsiders joined the pack in three years. (Estes, p. 315)
If two packs with bordering territories come upon each other, they will often just leave. If they are both trying to spend the night in the same den, the larger group will chase away the smaller group. Equally matched packs may fight. Fights are loud and energetic, and may last for hours. (Estes, p. 316)
When foraging, packs spread out, but stay connected with vocalizations. They scratch up the litter and check out every hole and opening, as well as turning over rocks and dung. They can smell invertebrates below the surface of the ground and will dig to retrieve them. An individual is protective of a discovered food source, but can’t help but make an excited sound when it finds one, which brings the rest of the pack. (Estes, p. 316)
If threatened by a predator, a pack will put together an intimidating mobbing attack. They will often deter predators as large as servals or large dogs, and have even been known to mob bushbucks, geese and other non-threats. They advance as one snarling, writhing creature, and will even pursue a predator who has taken a pack member to try to retrieve it. (Estes, p. 318)
In one study, over half of 144 investigated den sites were in thickets, mostly in termite mounds, 21% were in erosion gulleys, 15% were in open termite mounds near cover, 11% were in holes in the open, and 3% were made by humans. Dens had 1-9 entrances, with tunnels leading up to 210 cm into the den. Tunnel diameters were approx. 9 cm. They led to chambers 150 x 90 cm and 50 cm high. (Estes, p. 315)
Anal-gland scent-marking is frequent. Stones, stumps, termitaries and group members are marked on a daily basis. A mongoose will present its banded rump, which will stimulate scent-marking by another mongoose. The entire pack shared a “communal odor”. (Kingdon, p. 248)
Wide variety of vocalizations. Soothing chitters and churrs as contact calls, explosive chattering and squealing for anger or threat.
Strictly diurnal. (Kingdon, p. 247)
After spending the night together in a den for warmth, pack emerges about one hour after dawn. One at a time, they stick their head out, sniff the air and come out if it is safe. They relieve themselves at a common latrine and then spend time playing and grooming each other before beginning to forage. After 2-3 hours of intense feeding, they take a rest break in shade during the heat of the day. There is an afternoon activity period from about 4 until just before sunset. (Estes, p. 316)
Birds, snakes, medium-sized carnivores. Their group behavior makes them not an easy target.
Not endangered. There is currently a banded mongoose research project being conducted at Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Tragelaphus scriptus (Bushbuck)
A medium-sized antelope with vertical white stripes on the side and white spots on the lower-sides. Females and young are mainly red, males become progressively darker with age. Only the males have horns. Both males and females have white underside of tail, white flashes above hooves and white markings on face and ears. They have a light dorsal crest. (Kingdon, p. 352)
Hindquarters more developed than forequarters. Horns generally have only one twist and are nearly straight, although there may be local variations on this. (Estes, p. 173)
Size: (Kingdon, p. 352)
Head and body length: 105 – 150 cm
Tail length: 19 – 25 cm
Shoulder height: 61 – 100 cm
Weight: Female 24 – 60 kg; Male 30 – 80 kg
Dependent on thick cover and water, although they can sometimes subsist on dew and moisture from vegetation. Sometimes found in reedbeds. (Kingdon, p. 352)
Not found on open plains. Difficult to see, as it stays in cover as much as possible. Ranges as high as 3,000 meters in East Africa. (Estes, p. 173)
Throughout SSA except for the southwest, the Kalahari and the arid regions of Somalia. They are locally absent where water is not found. (Kingdon, p. 352)
Core areas range from .25 hectares for females, .5 hectares for adult males and 2 hectares for subadult males. Overall range in QENP is about 20 hectares, and day and night ranges are totally different, night ranges being more open. (Estes, p. 173)
Shrubs, leguminous herbs, growing grass, pods, fruits. (Kingdon, p. 352)
Gestation is 6-7 months, and a single female may produce two young in just over a year. There is no strict breeding season in places that receive rain all year, although in drier areas calving happens in the rainy season. Calves are born in thickets and will not join the mother to feed in the open until as much as 4 months after birth. The mother will return regularly to suckle it during that time, and they greet each other with licking the back of the head, neck and ears. Maternal bond lasts at least until the next offspring is born. Both sexes reach puberty at about 11 months, horns appear about 10 months and begin to twist at 1.5 years. Horns reach full-size at age 3. (Estes, p. 174)
They do well in settled areas, probably due to their small size and “freezing” and crouching behavior when threatened, which keeps them hidden from humans and predators. Their ability to subsist on both grass and browse also helps them survive in a variety of habitats. (Kingdon, p. 353)
Solitary, non-territorial, polygynous, sedentary. The only regular grouping is a female with her most recent offspring. Adults have exclusive lying-up spots in thickets where it rests and ruminates. Home ranges do overlap, though, and they do not actively avoid each other. At times they may even feed alongside each other for much of the day. If the habitat is patchy, there may be subpopulations that live within distinct areas. They are “loosely and casually sociable” rather than “anti-social.” This lack of herding may be due to their anti-predator strategy of hiding rather than running or confronting. (Estes, p. 173)
Fights are very rare, but very dangerous due to the straight, sharp horns that they use to stab their opponent. Dogs and hunters have been wounded or killed by bushbucks that were cornered. (Estes, p. 174)
Gives a loud, sharp “bark” when disturbed. (Walker, p. 192)
Males will “advertise” themselves by standing on hillocks or cliff-edges, and rubbing scent glands on branches. They also bark more frequently than females. (Estes, p. 174)
Diurnal when undisturbed, but primarily nocturnal and best seen in early morning and late evening. (Walker, p. 192)
Days are spend in or near thickets, and near nightfall they begin to move to their nighttime range in more open areas. They feed about 25% of the night, and rest laying down much of the rest of the time, making them harder to see. They return to their thickets when dawn approaches. (Estes, p. 173)
Droppings are pellets, which are often clumped together rather than individual. Clusters can be up to 3 cm long. (walker, p. 192)
Leopard, wild dogs, pythons. (Walker, p. 192)
Two populations in Uganda are vulnerable (Mt. Elgon and Northern Uganda), but overall bushbuck are common and widespread. (Kingdon, p. 353)
Occasionally becomes an agricultural pest. They are fond of figs and other fruits and so are often found beneath feeding baboons and other monkeys. (Estes, p. 173)
Syncerus caffer (Cape Buffalo, African Buffalo)
Large ox-like bovid. Horns are thick and come out sideways from the top of the skull. Dark gray to black with lighter underside. Often covered with mud from wallowing. Substantial sexual size dimorphism, as males continue to grow after maturity. (Kingdon, p. 348)
Only males develop the horn “shield” across the forehead. (Estes, p. 195)
Size: (Kingdon, p. 348)
Head and body length: 170 – 340 cm
Tail length: 50 – 80 cm
Height: 100 – 170 cm
Weight: 250 – 850 kg
Always within 20 km of water. They are savannah creatures, but seek out forests and valley bottoms when available. They prefer mosaics with a combination of thicket, reeds, forests, and mud wallows. (Kingdon, p. 349)
They are “bulk grazers”, which allows them to feed on longer and coarser grasses than most other ruminants. It can also browse when grass is hard to find. This allows them to live in areas not suitable for many other animals. They also create habitat for other ruminants through shortening the grass to preferred lengths for more selective feeders. (Estes, p. 196)
Believed to have evolved from the smaller and now less-plentiful forest buffalo. They once ranged across all but the driest parts of sub-Saharan Africa, but have been eliminated from many areas by hunting, habitat loss and rinderpest. (Kingdon, p. 348)
One of the most successful and wide-ranging of African mammals. Ranges throughout the northern and southern savannah, second growth and lowland rainforests, sea level to the highest mountains. They reach their highest density in western Uganda and eastern Congo, the Serengeti, and in montane grasslands, forests and swamps. (Estes, p. 195-196)
Completely varies based on herd size, resource distribution, and grassland productivity, as well as sex and age classes. Bachelor and solitary males are most sedentary, some staying within 4 sq. km. for years. One breeding herd of 138 buffalo in QENP had a home range of 10.5 sq. km., and a herd of 1,500 in the same park had a range of 296 sq. km. A breeding herd will cover, on average, 5.5 km/day during the wet season, and may travel up to 17 km to find water during the dry season. (Estes, p. 197)
They repeatedly feed in small areas because their trampling allows for much new growth of grasses. They eat a wide variety of grasses and swamp vegetation. (Kingdon, p. 349)
They will go to water at least once every 24 hours, generally in the afternoon. An adult can drink about 34 liters at a time. (Estes, p. 198)
Females first calve at about 5 years; males are able to secure mating rights only after about 8 or 9 years. Gestation is 11 ½ months, and mating and calving happen mostly during the rainy season – mating late in the season, birthing early. Interval between births ranges from 15 months to 2 years. (Estes, p. 199)
Females will enter “pre-estrus” 2 or 3 days before actual estrus to allow for successive displacement of competitors by increasingly dominant males. That male will “tend” the pre-estrus female until she enters full estrus, at which time they will mate. (Estes, p. 199)
Birth weight averages 45 kg, and calves can stand by about 10 minutes after birth. They can begin to follow the mother after several hours, but are unstable for several weeks. Mothers’ loyalty is often split between offspring and the herd, and will sometimes abandon young that can not keep up with the herd when it flees. (Estes, p. 200)
Non-territorial. Dominance is dependent on age and fighting ability.
May be found in groupings of up to and over 1,000. Mixed herds with male dominance hierarchy. They are joined in population units that remain in separate, traditional home ranges, and there is minimal interchange between units. Productivity of the habitat determines the size of these units. In the Serengeti open woodlands, herds averaged 350, with a maximum of 1,500. In the forests of Congo, average size was 20 or fewer. These basic units are mainly related cows arranged in a linear dominance hierarchy, with a number of adult and subadult males joining in. (Estes, p. 196)
Old bulls will separate from the main herd, and bachelor herds will separate during the dry season. Large herds break into smaller units during the dry season, but still stay within their home range. Herds are largest during the rainy season, especially near the end when most mating happens. (Estes, p. 196)
Herds will be led by “pathfinders”, adult or subadult cows or bulls who take it in turn to lead. When the larger herd is split into subherds during the dry season, each subherd will have a “pathfinder” that only leads when they are away from the larger herd. (Estes, p. 197)
Mothers remain closely connected with daughters (lessening somewhat after they begin to breed at 3-4 years), but maternal bond with males ends at about 3 years, at which point they join bachelor subherds. (Estes, p. 197)
When traveling as a large herd, several pathfinders will be in the lead, followed by high-status males, then several basic herd groupings with bachelor males on the perimeter, and at the end of the column will be invalid animals and, at the very end, more high-status males. (Diagram in Estes, p. 197)
Wallowing seems to have more to do with status than staying cool or parasite-free. Access to wallows, which generally can fit only one or two animals, depends on rank, and while in there they will often exhibit aggressive behaviors such as digging, tossing mud, kneeling, neck-rubbing, rolling and urinating. (Estes, p. 198)
Buffalo herds have a very effective group response to predators – they group tightly together, and will sometimes even mob a predator. There are stories of lion prides being treed by herds of buffalo and even of young lions getting trampled in a mobbing stampede. Buffaloes can run almost 60 km/h, so can outrun lions in open country. (Estes, p. 200)
They must have significant communication to keep such large, complex herds organized. Many vocal signals are used, primarily by high-status individuals: (Estes, p. 198)
Signal to move: low-pitched, 2-4 second call repeated at 3-6 second intervals by leaders during the early stages of herd movement.
Direction-giving signal: a “gritty”, creaking gate sound given intermittently by leaders
Water signal: An extended maa call emitted by one or a few individuals up to 20 times/minute before and during movement to a drinking place.
Position signal: Call emitted by high-status individuals to indicate their position.
Warning signal: Intense call similar to the position signal directed to inferiors
Aggressive signal: Explosive grunt possibly extended into a sequence or becoming a rumbling growl. Also given by dominant males after a stampede.
Mother-to-calf call: croaking call emitted by mothers seeking their calves – often heard after a stampede or as a prelude to a mobbing attack.
Danger signal: Drawn out waaa sound heard only 3 times, by daylight, usually when lions are spotted.
Grazing vocalizations: Variety of brief bellows, grunts, honks and croaks.
Eat continually throughout day where they feel safe, but in areas with high human or predator populations they limit main feeding to dawn, dusk and night. (Kingdon, p. 349)
Feces are like typical “cow-patty”. Dark when fresh, whitish-brown with age. Track is up to 15 cm long, and nearly identical to domestic cow. (Walker, p. 203)
These are very fierce animals, so lions are about the only predators that will attempt to take them besides humans. (Walker, p. 202)