Hanging with Fauna

By on February 14, 2017

As a fella who grew up in a home where the parents insisted that reading books was a way of life, my imagination has always been untamed and a little wild. I grew up dreaming of having conversations with J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan, helping Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli fight off Shere Khan and listening in to the arguments of the animals in George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

My mind travelled far and wide and it conjured up all sorts of strange tales of its own, some of which involved travelling the world with Gulliver, taking a holiday with Alice in Wonderland, exploring treasure island and hanging with Rumpelstiltskin.

Almost naturally, I took to liking birds and animals. One could say I was becoming a bit of an animal rights person because I attempted to adopt pretty much any animal, bird or insect I came across. I once adopted a cockroach, named him Koma and came back from school to find my mum had disposed of Koma after just a day of our friendship. I mourned for a week.

During these infant years, a visit to what we now call Uganda Wildlife Education Center was simply a trip to heaven. Back then it was called the Zoo and it was the thing of dreams. It was a paradise hidden away in Entebbe, situated in a place surrounded by one of the largest lakes and basically swarming with all sorts of animals and birds.

My parents somewhat knew what a little animal lover I was and therefore made it a point to book me a trip to this heavenly place at least once every year. Sometimes I would be lucky enough to visit it twice a year if my school planned another trip. The poor duo probably thought I was thinking of becoming a vet doctor.

Along the way, the passion for animals somewhat died out and even though my love for animals kept rearing its head in the form of the desire to adopt a dog here and a cat there, I never really followed up with as much intent.

Last weekend, a few friends and I attempted to turn back the hands of time and see what the Zoo (now Uganda Wildlife Education Center) had to offer, several decades later. Thanks to the good guys at Jumia Travel, we were able to book ourselves a trip to UWEC without as much as losing an ounce of sleep.

Nothing quite prepares you for a rush of nostalgia as much as visiting a place you adored when you were a young fella – nothing!

Right from the moment we entered the place and started off with stories about protection of Wildlife, the horrible animal traps that human beings set, the endangered species of animals, the threat of encroaching on wetlands and the problem of poaching, it was clear that this was going to be one heck of a nostalgic ride.

Image 2 The Skeleton of a Croc

First stop was the Ostrich area which, from what we saw was basically some kind of little kingdom. You see, there was a male ostrich with three females hanging with him. When we asked what happened in terms of mating, we were told that these fellas had a system. No one interrupted the other and the male ostrich served all the females without much ado. Someone intimated that perhaps humans could learn a lesson or two. We laughed.

Then we took a peek at the monkeys, water bucks, the endangered White Rhino and his mates, before we swung by the Lion’s Den. The lion and his ladies were lazily relaxing and could not care less for the humans behind the mesh that separated man from beast.

We even passed by the Cheetah which, from what we were told, had been rescued from captivity and was now comfortably a great part of the family at Uganda Wildlife Educational Center.

Image 10As a cat lover, I could not pass up a chance to pet the Cheetah. A few folks were shaking their boots at this point.

A visit to the Chimps revealed that these fellas have a hierarchy of their own and as much as we see them as animals, we were told that they and us actually have very little difference. In that moment, as if to demonstrate this little fact, one of the Chimps swung from one tree to another and waved at us. Might have been purely coincidental but drove the point perfectly home –they and us are very much alike.

We were also introduced to perhaps one of the most interesting Chimps yet, a hermaphrodite Chimp. That’s right, this fella has both the male and female gonads and battles with a bit of identity crisis. Again, very similar to the battles that humans beings have.

Image 13The Hermaphrodite Chimp just wondering what I was staring at

A visit to the bird section revealed that while it is generally agreed that Uganda has one of the highest numbers of birds in the whole world, we also do have some of the most beautiful birds. With well over 120 species of birds, UWEC seems to offer an opportunity for people to learn about birds including the gorgeous African Fish Eagle, the Giant Kingfisher, the Hummerkop, the Great Blue Turaco, the Indian Pea Fowl and the Pink Backed Pelican among others.

Needless to add, the elegant and majestic Gray Crested Crane stole the show for me. Also, because where I come from a Crested Crane is called Ewalu, which happens to be my name.

Image 6Scott and I being nice to the Shoe-billed Stork which is so respectful it bows when you bow

One of the highlights of the day was the visit to the Elephant area where Charles, a young elephant was anxiously waiting to be fed. And feed him we did. Everyone took turns to put some food in their palm, hold it out and have Charles stretch out his trunk to take the food and place it into his mouth. What an experience.

The interesting story about Charles was that he had been rescued by someone who was named Charles and therefore it was named after him. He had been rescued at a very tender age of a few days old and he had narrowly survived drowning. After rescuing him, he had been brought here and this had now become his home. He did feel at home.

Image 1Faisal, in typical fashion, told us that Charles reminded him of one of his ex girlfriends.

While at UWEC, I was particularly impressed by the manner in which the establishment had decided to tackle the issue of protecting animals and birds. The establishment itself was founded in the 1950s with the main purpose of accommodating confiscated and injured wildlife. It was also set up to cater for and look after any orphaned animals that might have been taken off the hands of smugglers.

Whether it be wildlife quarantine, treatment of injured and sick animals, contribution to species recovery as well as wildlife rescue, UWEC has over the years transformed into what is expected to be one of Africa’s greatest showcase of wildlife.

A trip to UWEC to see the birds, hoof stock, carnivores, primates and reptiles is a trip that will not only show you what wealth we have in animals but will also open up your mind to the interesting life that animals live; how they live, eat, play, and talk.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” ― Anatole France

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