Archive for June, 2011

Kenya conservation news – Ol Pejeta scoops another global award

OL PEJETA WINS ANOTHER GLOBAL AWARD

Information received during the week is all good news about Ol Pejeta, the combined conservancy and cattle ranch on the Laikipia plains outside Nanyuki. The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries handed Ol Pejeta a ‘Standards of Excellence Award’ during a recent meeting in the UK, recognizing the Sweetwaters’ Chimpanzee Sanctuary, located on the sprawling estate, for its achievements in providing a secure habitat for the chimps which of course were relocated there as none have their original ‘home’ in Kenya.

Veterinary health care in particular caught the attention of the judges, and Ol Pejeta’s senior supervisor for the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary Dr. George Paul in fact had come to Uganda a while ago to study the health care efforts by vets on Ngamba Island, Uganda’s own chimpanzee refuge and sanctuary in Lake Victora not too far off the Entebbe shores.

Ol Pejeta has established itself as a major force in Kenyan conservation circles, alongside such other illustrious names as Lewa Downs, and the December 2009 relocation of a small breeding stock of the rare Northern White Rhinos to Ol Pejeta catapulted the conservancy into the global spotlight. Over 100 Eastern Black, Southern White and the four Northern White Rhinos share the 80.000+ acres estate with elephant, buffalo, zebras – including the very rare hybrid cross breeds only found in this part of the country – giraffes, plenty of different species of plains game but also predators like cheetah, leopard and lions, coexisting with the cattle herds as a result of extraordinary measures taken by Ol Pejeta to protect livestock overnight and keep them mostly in areas of the estate where they do not ordinarily ‘clash’ with the big cats.

Ol Pejeta offers ‘regular’ accommodation vis a vis Serena’s Sweetwaters Safari Camp, the former ‘Kashoggi House’ but also at a more remote part of the conservancy the Porini Rhino Camp and two other very small private tented camps. Self catering accommodation is available on the estate with prior bookings and those can be done via www.olpejetaconservancy.org.

Entrance fees are now applicable for visitors but as Ol Pejeta offers all of the Big Five in a very concentrated area and has a well maintained track network, besides which walking safaris are possible from for instance the Porini Rhino Camp, it has become an absolutely ‘must visit’ location for visitors to the wider Mt. Kenya and Aberdare Mountains area.

‘Magical Kenya’ – manifested here at its best.

 

 

Uganda / Tanzania news update – New railway line to avoid Serengeti

NEW UGANDA – TANZANIA RAIL CORRIDOR TO AVOID SERENGETI

Uganda and Tanzania yesterday signed an agreement to cooperate in the construction of a new standard gauge railway line, with an estimated overall cost of nearly 2 billion US Dollars, connecting the lake side harbour of Port Bell / Kampala via rail-ferry to Mwanza and then to the Tanzanian coast.

The ministers overseeing the transport portfolio in both countries, Hon. Omar Nundu from Tanzania and his Ugandan counterpart Hon. Abraham Byandala signed the pact in Dodoma, Tanzania’s political capital and when taken to task over the route reassured conservationists and environmentalists that the rail track would not cross the Serengeti as has been rumoured but follow a route around the Southern park boundaries, as will incidentally the new highway connecting the same area with the rest of the country. Here a decisive argument was finally won when common sense prevailed to keep the highway route out of the migration routes of the Serengeti and the commitment to have the new proposed railway follow a similar route is commendable and will be welcomed by the tourism fraternity too.

The Tanzanian railway development is also due to be linked to a greater use of a revamped rail network, extending and modernizing the links from Tanzania to initially Rwanda before then also reaching Burundi and the Eastern Congo.

This particular railway development is in line with Uganda’s declared intent to  reducing its almost singular reliance for imports and exports of the Kampala to Mombasa railway and road network via Kenya to create both redundancy as well as bring competitive pricing for transportation of exports and imports into play. The new rail is a parallel development to plans by Kenya Railways and its Ugandan counterpart to modernize the current narrow gauge line and create a standard gauge connection between Mombasa’s port and Uganda, where freight trains could cover the distance within a day instead of taking up to a week and longer right now, especially considering the regular problems with derailments due to the poor track conditions at sections of the railway.

Watch this space. 

Uganda aviation news update – Fly 540 hits market with new fare for Mombasa

FLY 540 HITS MARKET WITH USD 350 FARE TO MOMBASA

The adverts this week by Fly 540 Uganda, offering an all inclusive fare of US Dollars 350 between Entebbe and Mombasa, is set to ignite another round of hotly contested competition on the route to the Kenyan coast, especially in view of Air Uganda having being off the route for the low season though resuming flights shortly, while the rival low cost carrier is cashing in on their absence to firm up their market support.

Fly 540 presently requires a change of aircraft and clearing customs and immigration in Nairobi, at times seen as more than a little cumbersome, while Air Uganda, when they resume flights to Mombasa, will offer a nonstop flight to the coast, which then in fact extends on to Zanzibar again, connecting the two main Indian Ocean holiday destinations of Eastern Africa with Uganda.

Immigration and customs procedures are in fact one of the key roadblocks to greater travel by the extensive expatriate community in Eastern Africa, as notwithstanding their registration status in their country of residence they are still treated as foreign nonresident visitors when crossing the borders to another East African Community member state, requiring Visa payments and customs inspection, as if they were trying to smuggle dirty socks across the borders. For many the day cannot come soon enough when East Africa returns to the procedures of the ‘old’ EAC when the national borders had literally been eliminated and travel across the entire ‘scheduled territories’ was free of controls such as inflicted today on travelers. Airline chiefs in fact two weeks ago blasted politicians and governments for not implementing a common East African Visa for tourists from overseas and also critizised the lack of opening up internal borders to stimulate more airtravel across the region. It is high time therefore for East Africa’s politicians to act and to live up to their endless declarations of ‘unity’ when they talk of East African integration.

Meanwhile though it is also time to fly with 540, as it is not likely to get any cheaper from here onwards. Visit www.fly540.com for details on fares, schedules and destinations in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. 

 

 

Rwanda news update – African business survey puts Rwanda into top ten African investment destinations

RWANDA’S RELENTLESS CLIMB INTO THE TOP 10 AFRICAN INVESTMENT DESTINATIONS

The latest information available from sources close to the Rwanda Development Board indicates that the ‘Africa Business Panel’ has ranked Rwanda now at the number 7 most preferred investment destination in Africa, after such illustrious names like South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Angola and Tanzania. Rwanda has in recent years invested heavily to become Eastern Africa’s ICT hub and added infrastructure in roads while pursuing a direct rail link with the Indian Ocean port city of Dar es Salaam, as an extension railway with standard gauge between the inland dry port of Isaka and Kigali.

A new international airport is also in planning as has the national airline RwandAir been catapulted to prominence in the region with wise investments in right sized aircrafts and a strategic expansion of their network and flight frequencies to the most important trading partners in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa. The creation of a ‘One Stop Investment Centre’ under the auspices of the Rwanda Development Board, under which incidentally also ‘Tourism and Conservation’ falls since the former ORTPN was merged into one comprehensive national development body, has also helped in putting Rwanda on the map as will undoubtedly plans to merge all tertiary educational institutions under one single University of Rwanda, of which they will become constituent colleges, driving manpower development and skills transfer to a new level unprecedented in the entire region.

Congratulations for this achievement to my Rwandan friends, who only recently were crowned ‘most in demand tourism destination’ in East Africa, Well done indeed!

 

Rwanda conservation news update – Kwita Izina 2011, treasured memories

KWITA IZINA 2011 – THE DAY OF NAMING GORILLAS

When I told some of my acquaintances in Kampala recently that I was once again going back to Rwanda to attend Kwita Izina 2011, their reaction was almost predictable as they promptly shot back at me: Kwit WHAT EXACTLY?

Having had that experience before I patiently set out to explain that Kwita Izina, pronounced KWITIZINA, was Rwanda’s annual naming of newly born mountain gorillas and a weeklong festival celebrating conservation and honouring the local communities living near the Volcanoes National Park in Musanze, formerly known as Ruhengeri. ‘Ahh, ok, now we understand, KWITIZINA’ was the reaction to that effort, to which I nodded and also said ‘Yes, KWITIZINA’ …

Inaugurated in 2005, when the naming ceremony was held for the very first time – although gorillas had been named before by their trackers, rangers and the wardens in the park, or else the researchers often living with them for prolonged periods – the ‘formal naming’ was kicked off by none other than President Paul Kagame and his wife Jeanette, who were the first ‘Namers’ in 2005 to ‘baptize’ a twin pair of baby gorillas ‘Byishimo, meaning Happiness and Impano, meaning Gift’. The two babies, born to their mother Nyabyitondere were of the Susa Group.

Since then a further 122 young gorillas have been named by a succession of Hollywood celebrities, world renowned conservationists and gorilla researchers, business people and most notably local Rwandans from the neighbourhood of the park, demonstrating the ‘ownership’ by locals of ‘their gorillas’, from which they now earn substantial benefits. Porters going with each group of tourists up the mountains carry water and back packs and earn between 10 to 20 US Dollars per trip, while more locals are now employed in the park directly as trackers, wardens and guides. Others sell locally made curio items or T-shirts tailored to the very gorilla group the tourists visited, just as soon as they get back to the ‘jump off points’ where their safari vehicles await them again. A revenue share scheme is in place, giving 5 percent of each tracking permit sold back to the communities for the building and maintenance of schools, water wells, water tanks and other social amenities, and with a permit selling for 500 US Dollars a person, and as many as 64 such permits available per day – often sold out months in advance – this can amount to well over half a million US Dollars per annum, being distributed equitably amongst the villages along the 5 volcanoes where the mountain gorillas have their habitat.

When Kwita Izina, incidentally with details available on the web via www.kwitizina.org, started in 2005, it was a one day event, which in the meantime has grown to a weeklong festival of activities, including a cycling race attracting athletes from all over Eastern Africa – this year an Eritrean won again – but also from beyond Africa, such is the appeal to come to Rwanda, The Land of a Thousand Hills.

In addition Rwanda now hosts a full day conservation conference, and mindful that 2011 is the UN’s International Year of the Forests, the theme this year was selected as ‘Forest Stewardship by Communities: Contributions, Benefits and Future Prospects, which brought hundreds of conservationists from East and Central Africa, but also from as far as Israel, South Africa, Angola and even the US and Europe together.

Relevant presentations by renowned scientists were followed by intense group discussions and interaction between participants, before agreeing on a set of recommendations which were handed over to the Government of Rwanda and copied to the East African Community headquarters in Arusha for regional consideration.

The Rwandan Minister for Natural Resources, the Hon. Stanislas Kamanzi, reiterated Rwanda’s commitment and determination, to widen forest cover across the country and especially in the areas between Nyungwe Forest and Gishwati Forest to 30 percent by 2020, up from just over 20 percent at present, a model surely for many other countries to follow, in on our continent and beyond.

Also in the same week could visitors see the launch of Rwanda’s cultural tourism component with the National Institute of Museums inaugurating a former palace of the ancient Rwandan kingdom, bringing the history of the country closer to tourist visitors but also their own people, especially the younger generation who grew up after the country had been turned into a republic.

The handover of community projects near Musanze / Ruhengeri  preceded the main event on Saturday 18th of June in Kinigi, near the park headquarters, when four 80.000 litre community water tanks were handed over to villages, available to the people living there and sparing them long distance walks to rivers and springs, while 52 small farms received their own rainwater fed tanks against a small personal contribution to the overall cost of installation, bringing great relief to them too as their daily water needs for domestic use, to water their livestock and for use in irrigating their gardens was now made easier and faster by the new tanks.

But prior to the big day, when 22 new born gorilla babies were to be ‘baptised’, opportunity arose once again to actually visit the gorillas, and it was the Hirwa Group, into which twins were born only weeks earlier I was privileged to see.

 

 

(seen here the mother of the  twins, called Kabatwa, one little one ‘backpacking’ and the other one hidden from sight below the mom. They were the following day named ‘Isangano’ and ‘Isango’ respectively by Mr. and Mrs. Mark van Modrick).

 

Having had ‘hard tracking’ in the past, with up to 8 hours including pouring rain and knee-deep muddy stretches, this trip was very different, to and from in less than three hours, the longest actually being the approach walk up to the perimeter wall which runs along the entire national park boundary from the Ugandan border to the border of the Congo DR.

No sooner had we cross into the park proper, were we greeted already by one of the armed trackers and guards, which are almost permanently with the gorillas to ensure their safety, and Francois, our main guide, gave us a final round of instructions before we left our porters, back packs and water canteens behind to make a final approach to the gorillas.

 

(Francois giving final instructions of ‘do’s and don’ts’ before leading us right into the middle of the Hirwa Group which is 16 members strong)

 

Through thick bamboo forest we had to make our way towards the gorillas, which were spread out, on the ground but also high up in the trees, and the closer we got to these magnificent animals, nearest to mankind in their DNA make up after the chimpanzees only, the more we heard them, munching, crunching and as we got closer even punching the ground. Adolescents ‘abseiled’ from the trees, others were happily swinging above us while the females watched their young offspring AND us to make sure none of us 8 visitors got too close to them. That said, the younger gorillas showed their sense of adventure and came close to us, one in the process even holding on to my trouser, leaving me standing absolutely still until this little one had moved on before breathing out …

All along though the dominant silverback, named Munyinya before I re-baptized him ‘Salongo Munyinya’ – after all he had fathered a very rare pair of twins – was always positioning himself between us and his family, protective and alert and yet still finding time to devour fresh bamboo shoots and other forest delicatessen he picked from trees and bushes or from the ground.

 

 

(Hirwa’s silverback, previously known as Munyinya and now also called ‘Salongo Munyinya’ a name given by the Buganda people to fathers of twins)

 

The one hour with the gentle giants of the Virunga mountains was up in no time and Francois ushered us firmly away from the animals, leaving their ‘regular’ guards and wardens behind, as we made our way to the perimeter wall, exited the park and then began to discuss our adventure, not being able to speak loudly while inside the forest and near the gorillas.

And then the big day dawned on Rwanda, Kwita Izina 2011 had finally arrived and with the Right Honourable Prime Minister of Rwanda Bernard Makuza as Chief Guest at the function, the Rwandan government once again showed their commitment to conservation.

22 gorillas, born since Kwita Izina 2010 were named, by a cross section of conservationists, local people and business representatives of companies which had during the last 12 months again shown their commitment towards conservation in Rwanda and generously contributed to a range of conservation and community projects across the country – and Kenya Airways, The Pride of Africa was one of them, represented by their Rwanda Country Manager.

 

 

(Some of the ‘Namers’, dressed in traditional Rwandan outfits, with RDB – Tourism and Conservation’s Miss Rica Rwigamba at centre stage making the announcements)

 

Rwanda presently has 8 habituated gorilla groups, spread over the 5 main volcanoes Muhabura, Mgahinga, Karisimbi, Visoke, also at times called Bisoke and Sabyinyo, bearing the following names: Sabyinyo Group, Karisoke Group, 13 Group, Amahoro Group, Umubano Group, Susa Group, Hirwa Group and Kwitonda Group. Up to 8 tourists per day are allowed to approach the animals in their natural habitat up the mountains but are only allowed contact for a maximum of one hour to protect the ‘gentle giants of the Virunga mountains’ from disease and disruption of their social fabric.

 

 

(Traditional dancers enjoying themselves as much as the crowd did)

 

 

(Cultural performances portraying life in Rwanda as it once was)

 

 

Kenya tourism news update – Fort Jesus / Mombasa now a UNESCO World Heritage Site

FORT JESUS MAKES IT INTO THE UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE BOOKS

The latest round of declaring sites of significant importance to the world’s cultural heritage by UNESCO has seen ‘Fort Jesus’ included in the list of now protected and globally acclaimed monuments, landscapes and locations. The fort, originally built over 400 years ago by the Portuguese who treasured the safe anchorage they found in Mombasa, besides the opportunities to restock water and supplies for their onward journeys across the Indian Ocean. Fort Jesus is for long already part of the Kenya Museums and while already in great demand by tourists and on the itinerary of every city tours of Mombasa, the latest accolade and honour bestowed on it by UNESCO will undoubtedly lure even  more visitors to the site, which is by the way often used for evening functions with special light displays on its massive walls overlooking the inner courtyards.

Visitor number in recent years were growing towards the 200.000 entries mark by both foreign tourists and locals including school and study groups but this latest elevation of the status of Fort Jesus is bound to drive the numbers across this threshold.

At the same announcement were the Kenyan lakes in the Great Rift Valley also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, extending from Lake Naivasha over Lake Elementaita, Lake Nakuru and Lake Bogoria to Lake Baringo. This is both a recognition of Kenya’s conservation efforts so far but also a further challenge to maintain biodiversity and expand conservation measures along the rift valley floor around the lakes, to ensure that their water sources, especially critical for Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru, remain intact and water is not ‘harvested’ for irrigation to the point where the lakes are starved of inflow.

And for Lake Nakuru, the inclusion in the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, the plans by the National Highway Authority to carve out a piece of Lake Nakuru National Park’s land for a ‘bypass highway’ around the municipality of Nakuru too needs to be binned for good now, lest public opinion turns against the highway promoters with equal ferocity as was the case when Tanzania planned their controversial highway across the Serengeti.

But for now, it is congratulations to Kenya for this remarkable achievement which will go a long way in supporting the country’s drive for more tourists visiting all corners of the republic. 

 

 

Tanzania tourism news update – South African Airways offers special fares for ‘Independence Day 50’

SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS TO SUPPORT TANZANIA’S ‘GOLDEN JUBILEE’

South African Airways, a member of the world’s leading airline grouping ‘Star Alliance’, has announced the introduction of very special fares between Tanzania and the United States, for travel in both directions over the period between September and December, when East Africa’s largest country will celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence from Britain. The Tanzanian Tourist Board, alongside other government departments, is working on a range of special programmes and events to offer visitors to Tanzania added value during their holidays, and details of the special celebrations are expected to be released soon.

SAA, which offers direct connections to New York via Johannesburg hopes to bring a greater share of visitors from the US into Tanzania, not just for the ‘Golden Jubilee’ but even for the time afterwards, as it promotes its direct flight links from an African gateway and with an African airline to the US, otherwise only possible when flying with Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa or with Egypt Air via Cairo.

The recent turnabout over the controversial Serengeti highway plans, long considered a potential threat to the celebrations over fears of being de-campaigned by environmental and conservation groups – the Tanzanian government through the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism has written to UNESCO and assured them the plans would not go ahead – will also add fresh live to the plans to put on an extraordinary show for ‘Independence Day 50’ when Tanzania, first to be let go by Britain at the time in East Africa in 1961, will take stock of half a century of self governance.

Watch this space. 

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