The Uganda Big Birding Day (BBD) is a birding activity organized by Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) in collaboration with NatureUganda, Uganda Wildlife Authority and with support from other partners. The BBD activity combines avian conservation with awareness and tourism development. The aims of this event is to highlight the plight of birds in the country, use bird conservation to help promote domestic tourism in the country and to promote Uganda as a global birding destination. The event also helps to bridge the information gap by linking up bird watchers, tourism promoters and conservationists and the rest of the world in an exciting event. The BBD is an annual activity organized under the theme "Connecting Birds to People and Nature". BBD has three events; the Launch day to flag off birding teams; the birding day, which is the day for the bird watching race; and the last event of the BBD is the festival where participants will celebrate the success of the event where results from the birding race are announced.
The launch of the BBD 2017 took place at the Uganda Museum on 9th November 2017. This years' BBD is organized by UTB, UWA and NatureUganda under the theme:"Connecting birds to people and Nature".
Invited guests trickled in as early as 3:30pm and the venue was packed with an eagerly awaiting audience comprising of government institutions and agencies, students, birders and tour operators, nature conservation enthusiasts, the media and the general public. The event started with a documentary about the Life of Birds by Sir David Attenborough.This years' Guest Speaker was Dr. Pantaleon Kasoma, The Executive Director of Jane Goodall Institute who made a presentation entitled "Are we Using our inheritance in Uganda wisely; A CASE OF BIRDS"
The Master of ceremony Mr. Achilles Byaruhanga the Executive Director of NatureUganda, who opened the event with a brief history of Big Birding Day, highlighted the importance of the day and its achievements since it started 15 years ago. He indicated that avi-tourism has overtaken Gorilla tracking in terms visitor numbers and funds into the economy. He also indicated that the State of Bird Report 2016, showed a decline in some bird species. He gave an example of Grey Crowned Crane whose population trends show decline from 100,000 in 1970s to less than 12,000 the current estimate."We have a duty to protect our resources if our children will have the same benefits we enjoy today". Mr. Byaruhanga said.
Ms. Sylvia Kalembe who represented Deputy Director of UTB Mr. Sempebwa John indicated that government is committed to promoting Uganda as a birding destination, sharing many accolades that Uganda has received as a leading birding destination. .
She emphasized the importance of Avi-tourism and a need for more promotion and training of bird guides. She illustrated the importance of birding a tourism product by showing expenditure levels. She said on average a tourist spends about 150USD per day and birders spend longer time in the country from 15 -30 days. Therefore a tourist who spends in the country 30 days will spend nearly $4500. If you attract 10,000 birders in a year, they will inject over $45 million into the economy. Ms Sylvia reminded businesses to consider merchandising the birds' products through items such as branded mugs, t-shirts and other creative art and crafts as a way of diversifying income from birding.
Mr. Mwesigye Charles the Deputy Director Field Operations of Uganda Wildlife Authority reminded the audience that birds are part of larger ecosystem and the conservation of birds benefits all other biodiversity. Charles emphasized the importance of conservation as a precursor to tourism development. He said UWA is enhancing tourism development with infrastructural development. He informed members that UWA had secured buses to support domestic tourism experience and were available for Ugandans to use. He reported that UWA had offered free entry to all National Parks for all BBD participants.
Dr. Kasoma was the Guest Speaker of the Day on a topic "Are we Using our inheritance in Uganda wisely; A CASE OF BIRDS"
He started with a brief introduction on biology of birds followed by statistics showing richness of Uganda in terms of birds. "Uganda is 0.79% of Africa but contains 45.3 percent of all birds found on the continent and 0.000005 of the surface of the earth and contains 10% of the world total" He related this richness with the economic potential of birding in Uganda. "If well managed and promoted, birding can be a cash cow for Uganda" Dr. Kasoma said illustrating his statement with statistics from European countries and USA.
The guest speaker also He highlighted the challenges facing avi-tourism in Uganda such as professionalism, promotion, government support and habitat degradation and destruction.
The Guest Speaker outlined the following as measures to be taken to enhance avi-tourism in Uganda.
1. Allocate more resources to avi-tourism as a subcategory of nature-based tourism.2. Invest in training the required human resources.
3. Monitor trends in nature-based tourism with specific focus on avi-tourism.
4. Make it a priority to inform Ugandans of the lost opportunity arising out of abuse of nature.
5. Create incentives to protect natural areas outside protected areas
The discussion that followed the presentation emphasized the importance and role of birds in the ecosystem and economy, the need for more promotion, the need for a code of ethics, the need for more promotional materials especially checklists for all sites, maps and guide books, increased training of bird guides and increased studies to identify more species and more sites. Other members called for the balance between development and conservation, indicating that some developments are influenced by political interests and negate environment consequences leading to habitat loss for biodiversity. Ms Sarah Kagingo, a keen blogger and twitter on tourism and conservation Uganda, wondered why we prefer to publicize negativities in Uganda such as tear gas rather than showing the beauty of our country. She said promotion of Uganda is everyones responsibility.The Launch event ended with registration of participants for the Saturday 11th birding race to various parts of Uganda.