This past Saturday I had the opportunity to visit the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre or Entebbe Zoo like never before. Our friends at Jumia Travel had set up a behind the scenes tour and learning experience for journalists and bloggers to have an inside look at what goes on professionally at the wildlife sanctuary that has since the 1950s specialized in conservation education, wildlife rescues and rehabilitation, and captive breeding of endangered wildlife species!
I have always loved to go back to the zoo, even though on my return since 2000 ended up with an unfit me walking a lot and perspiring, as you can tell, I am not an exercise kind of person, but anything for the animals.
I had looked forward to this experience for days, a little hangover and no power to fix myself breakfast were not going to put me off.
And for your information, I was the last member of the team to reach the assembly point – Jumia Uganda offices along Lumumba Avenue Nakasero just before 10 am .. I was quite sure the ever-jolly Evelyn Masaba wasn’t impressed at all with my timekeeping.
We headed to the zoo immediately from Kampala in two vans. It was not as crowded as I would expect, seeing that it was a weekend otherwise it might have been way more of an experience than even I would have wanted.
I was so pleased to be warmly welcomed by our host Isaac Mujasi, the UWEC Business and PR manager who said ‘Well I had to be here, the crocodiles have been expecting you and we couldn’t disappoint them’.
Our day started out in the history room just next to UWEC’s reception area and our host informed us that they were still bothered by the continued habitant destruction in Uganda. The zoo gives the animals place almost similar to their natural habitats and social structures.
We met the education officer and she showed us a typical ‘day in her life’ as she explained the aspects of zoo animal handling and management. Second stop was the ostrich area but it drizzled immediately so we run to a nearby shelter and then after we walked behind the enclosure to meet Vin – the leopard whose kind are very elusive and hardly seen in the wild. After some persuading, the keeper was able to get to walk us back to the lions’ space. This was an incredible experience, and having Isaac there to explain that the male lion had three ‘wives’ (a trio of lionesses) at his disposal was really enlightening.
There was a sadden few minutes for a one-winged gray crowned crane; Uganda’s symbolic bird — scientifically called Balearica regulorum gibbericeps that now faces threat of extinction. Our guide explained to us that once widespread, only about 10,000 to 20,000 gray crowned cranes are left in Uganda, compared with an estimated 100,000 four decades ago.
While it was an incredibly hot day and most animals were trying their best to stay cool, I was lucky enough to see my favourites, the famous Nile crocodiles, Kadogo and his two friends chilling in their ‘hood’ without caring about us. Before that we had hurriedly followed two Nkuraruhembe (Runyarwanda for rhinoceros or square-lipped rhinoceros) for almost 70 meters.
The first time I managed to catch a sight the ShoeBill Stork! They are so intelligent and everyone was so awed by the way Sushi the stork responded to zookeeper Robert’s Japanese greeting. This was a great photo opportunity and the whole team snapped away.
We were wondering why the chimpanzees were rushing to near the water barrier, then we realised it was feeding time and they were waiting for the zookeeper Robert to feed them!
Unfortunately, we missed out on the leaping antelopes and giraffes because they were getting ready to be treated by doctors until we were close enough to Kyari or (Charlie) the elephant (and snap a really cool photo of course). We fed him as the keeper told us Kyari’s story, and how he was left behind in trench by his mother in Queen Elizabeth National Park only to be rescued by a fisherman, Kyarimpa! Robert explained that the zoo’s elephant was an intelligent one and is now so used to his environment.
The famous lion cub Sophie, which looked really lonely was another highlight for me just after I stayed back from the group when they visited the snakes’ house moreover in captivity (our ‘sponsor Evelyn’ also had ophidiophobia, the abnormal fear of snakes).
My comrade Bernard a.k.a Beewol The Talkative Rocker was with me for cheetah experience (shared experience is always so much more fulfilling). The keepers kindly invited the ladies in the group and some gentlemen to leave their bags behind – they said ‘We are not quite sure how Pian the Cheetah will react to all those multiple colours’.
Side by side, when we were invited to join the graceful cheetah without a collar.
We (I went first and Bernard second) were able to pat and touch the Cheetah. The keepers suggested that we not touch their feet, stomach or tail (I was very keen to comply, who wants to upset the star performer). What was amazing as I reached to stroke this graceful beast was my hand vibrating as I stroked its coat. The fur is soft but bristly. Gorgeous in colour, soft to touch, fantastic fur, quite the fashion icons really.
Just before 3:00pm, we had a meal in our restaurant overlooking Lake Victoria and the day continued on with a couple hours of roaming the zoo beach on our own time.
That evening, our van driving back to noisy Kampala, I couldn’t help it but think about how this trip despite my hangover and not keeping time was definitely worthwhile thanks to Jumia Travel country boss Luis Badea, and I would love to have the opportunity to do it again!
Here are some shots my friends took that day: