It’s one thing to run a safari in Uganda or build a lodge in one of Uganda’s National Parks. It’s a totally different thing to be involved in the conservation of Uganda’s wildlife and protected areas. We have been hands-on in conservation and protection since the early 1990s. At each of our lodges we have on-going programmes of conservation that our guests can get involved in if they wish.
At Semliki, before the lodge was even built, we helped galvanise the ranger force. Uganda was emerging from decades of troubled times, wildlife had been decimated, rangers in rag-tag uniforms had not been paid for months – there was very little revenue from tourism and morale was at an all-time low. Something needed to be done to address this. Besides helping out with ranger salaries, we managed to convince Parks Canada to part with their surplus equipment: uniforms, belts, hats, sweaters, shoes and boots. The only catch was, they insisted we remove all Parks Canada badges. Hugely pregnant, Pamela spent many winter nights in 1993 picking badges off the uniforms, one by one, and packing them to send to Uganda. World Famous, the outdoor product company, donated a number of tents, sleeping bags and backpacks to enable the ranger force to go on patrol. As the shipment was ready to go, we realised we’d forgotten one thing: socks. A panicked call to MacGregor Socks of Toronto yielded several bales of socks arriving moments before the shipment left. The transformation was incredible. The rangers were renewed. Their anti-poaching patrols yielded results and the Semliki Valley Game Reserve started slowly but surely to heal.
We work with the local communities on the edge of the reserve, communicating the benefits of conservation involving them in the lodge operations, training them to be guides. Today, Semliki is probably one of the best places to see Forest Elephant and Shoebill, two of the worlds more threatened species. Through the establishment of the Semliki Conservation Trust, we have worked in the area of public health in the local communities, focussing on maternal nutritional health.
At Apoka, we have established an ongoing relationship with the village of Lorukul which lies on the outskirts of the Kidepo Valley National Park. Beyond hiring almost exclusively from the village and offering professional training, we have engaged them in developing tourism activities. Our guests can now visit the village and see how the Karamojong live. They can spend time learning about preparing the local food and building a kraal. They can chat with the village elders and participate in activities with the children. Our relationship with Lorukul has enabled them to build a village clinic and we have facilitated regular visits with a doctor in the region. Our next target is to build a school.
Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge is a conservation project in itself. It is in fact owned by the community of Nkuringo, but designed, built and managed by us. The Nkuringo Gorilla group was habituated specifically for this project to garner the participation of the community in the conservation of the gorilla habitat. Historically, gorillas were raiding crops of the homesteads lying at the periphery of Bwindi. Through a programme spearheaded by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) and the Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF) a tract of land was purchased from the community as a buffer zone and a private sector partner was sought to build and manage a lodge. Beyond ownership of the lodge, the community earns a significant share of the revenue and there are many spin-off benefits from these earnings.
Semliki presented some unique challenges. Almost decimated during the troubled years, the Reserve needed some help to heal. Rangers needed equipment to patrol - in the mid-90s they had nothing. We knew raising money was tough so we set about raising donations of gear: tents, backpacks, radios, boots, sleeping bags, uniforms (even belts and socks ) were sourced from generous Canadian companies. The difference was phenomenal and the team was galvanized into action. Anti-poaching patrols started in earnest and the Reserve was pulled back from the brink of being degazetted. Work still goes on and, among other activities, we are currently lobbying to have the public road moved to outside the reserve.