On Safari in Unknown Uganda
Interview with Ronald Kabiito about traveling in Uganda
Uganda, which is quite unknown to tourists, has a few highlights in store. The reason most travelers visit Uganda is to visit the last of the mountain gorillas in the Ugandan rainforest. Observing these majestic animals up close is sure to be an experience that will hardly be forgotten. But Uganda can do more. In addition to the “Big Five”, you can also encounter giraffes, cheetahs, zebras, etc. on numerous safaris. Ronald Kabiito tells you in a short interview what is important when traveling to Uganda.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Who are you, where are you from and how did you get into tourism?
My name is Ronald Kabiito. I am 24 years old and originally from Kibale in western Uganda. However, I grew up in Kampala. My hobbies are traveling, learning foreign languages and getting to know different cultures. I learned German at Mengo Senior School and after graduating from high school I studied “Advanced German Pedagogy” at Makerere University in Kampala. Because of my language skills and my great love for nature and traveling, I finally got into tourism.
2. You know Uganda inside out. What do you value most about your country and what would you like to give our guests on their journey when they visit Uganda?
Most of all, I appreciate the different cultures of Uganda, such as the Kiganda, Batwa and Karimojong cultures. The Karimojong, for example, are known to like to drink the blood of cows and other domestic animals. Admittedly, this ritual takes a lot of getting used to, but it is also very special for this region and this ethnic group. I also really enjoy introducing our guests to the different ways of life of the Ugandan people. Because although many tourists often only come because of the primates, many are in retrospect enthusiastic about the diversity of Ugandan culture and tradition.
3. What do travelers who come to Uganda need to know or consider?
Ahead: Uganda has the friendliest people in all of East Africa. Both children and their parents are always happy to see tourists. You can often hear them calling “Mzungu”, which means “white” in German. This is not to be understood as a swear word, but as an exclamation that rare guests have come! In Uganda there are still different kingdoms for example Buganda in the center, Bunyoro in the west, Busoga in the east etc. The locals respect the kings and bring them gifts every now and then. Therefore, as a traveler, you should also have respect for it.
As everywhere in the world, you are not allowed to photograph the police, the army or other state officials. You should also not photograph crying people or funeral ceremonies. The best thing to do is to just ask (either the person himself or the guide) whether it is okay to take a photo. Unlike in Germany, Ugandans used to have major problems with punctuality. But this has changed a lot over time and even Germans can now speak of “on time” here.
4. In Uganda, of course, everyone wants to see the mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. Is there a guarantee that I will actually see them?
The good news first: I don’t know any guest who hasn’t seen the gorillas. The animals are observed from afar by rangers throughout the day, who then know the exact location of the gorillas. The probability of seeing the gorillas is therefore around 99%. Of course you can never be completely sure, after all, they are living beings in their own right.
5. How does the high price of up to 650 USD for the gorilla permits come about?
One of the reasons for the high prices is the limited number of mountain gorillas on our planet. The money makes a major contribution to the protection of endangered animals. Demand also plays a decisive role. The more the price of gorilla tracking fluctuates depending on how many travelers want to see these rare animals. Habitation, i.e. getting the monkeys used to humans, is also very time-consuming and associated with high costs.
6. How exactly does the viewing of the gorillas work?
For gorilla tracking it is essential to be fit and healthy. Healthy, as the gorillas are very similar to us humans and are therefore just as susceptible to our diseases. Unfortunately, anyone who feels uncomfortable on the day of the tracking is not allowed to participate. You have to be fit, as a hike through the dense jungle can take several hours. The heat and the different altitudes (sometimes with mountains of up to 2,000 meters) can be very exhausting in the long run.
Couples or family members usually stay in a group if there are no more than 8 people. Because only 8 people are allowed per gorilla group. If a tracking group consists of more than these 8 people, it will be split up. If you have found the mountain gorillas after a long march, you can stay with them for an hour and watch them. As equipment, I advise our guests to always wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts or T-shirts, as there are thorns and insects in the forest. Gaiters are also very helpful, especially because of the ants. As we are out and about in the rainforest, our luggage should always have good rainwear and rain protection for the camera equipment.
When you end up facing the gorillas, you also have to pay attention to a few things. For example, you can only take photos without a flash. Eating and drinking are only allowed at a distance of more than 200 meters and of course you are not allowed to touch the monkeys. All this and more will be explained in detail on site.
7. Besides gorillas there are certainly other animal species in Uganda. What other animals can you come across on a Uganda trip?
In Uganda there are of course many other animals such as: lions, rhinos, buffalo, leopards, elephants,… So the classic “Big Five”, but also giraffes, zebras, cheetahs, bucket dogs, hippos, Uganda kobs, pin-eared pigs, chimpanzees , Baboons and many birds such as crowned cranes, bee-eaters, storks, pelicans, vultures, eagles,… I could list a few more. I can only say that safaris in addition to gorilla tracking are always worthwhile.
8. To what extent do the animal observations differ from countries such as Tanzania or South Africa?
In my opinion, wildlife viewing is better in Uganda than in Tanzania and South Africa, as Uganda has a variety of different endemic animal and bird species. The second reason is the few tourists in the country. Unlike in South Africa or Tanzania, there is almost no tourist traffic in Uganda and as a traveler you almost always have enough space and peace to watch the animals. It is precisely this seclusion and loneliness that defines Uganda’s luxury!
9. How can our guests contribute to the (better) protection of animals and nature? What role does sustainability play in Uganda?
11% of the area of Uganda is already under nature protection. It is precisely because tourists want to visit our country, discover our unique landscapes and observe our animals that they are already making a major contribution to the protection and preservation of the natural and animal world. From the entrance fees to the national parks, 20% of the income goes directly to the surrounding population. Many jobs are also created in the national parks, so that the people in the area know about the importance of tourism and the protection of animals. Uganda relies on gentle (sustainable) tourism and especially with the mountain gorillas, the elephant and red shield giraffe populations, great successes have been achieved in recent years.