Thursday, August 4th, 2022
Murchison Falls National Park (NP), one of Uganda’s oldest and largest parks, is under pressure from oil exploitation and climate change impacts.
A tour operator, who has been visiting the park since 2003, has noted changes to the park as oil exploitation infrastructure takes shape. The tour operator shared his experience with AFIEGO, which is narrated below.
On July 25, 2022, I visited Murchison Falls NP. I own a tour and travel company. Part of my work includes accompanying tourists to national parks among other tourist sites.
Because of the COVID-19 disruptions, I had gone a full year without visiting the park. When I visited on July 25, what I saw disheartened me. How?
With the tourists that I was accompanying, we entered the park through the Kichumbanyobo gate in the southern sector of the park. We drove to the park using the Masindi (Kisanja)-Park Junction Road.
This is one of the critical oil roads. It goes through the park. It is aimed at supporting TotalEnergies to extract oil from the park. Ordinary Ugandans also use the road. Particularly, travelers from Western Uganda going to West Nile use the road. Some road users have reported seeing road kill such as lizards and monkeys on the road.
Previously, the road entering the park was a dirt one. This is because not only are dirt roads better for biodiversity conservation, many tourists say that dirt roads provide the real wilderness experience they are seeking.
Previously, when one entered the park using the dirt road, one felt like they were entering a nature sanctuary. With the tarmac road however, one gets the feeling that one is going to any other place, and not a nature reserve.
Experiences are very important in tourism. If Murchison Falls NP starts to feel like any other place, and not a nature reserve, then tourism in the park, which is one of Uganda’s most visited, could be hurt.
SCENIC VIEWS COVERED
Further, previously, tourists would immediately start seeing wildlife such as baboons, black and white colobus monkeys and others when they entered through the Kichumbanyobo gate.
The monkeys are arboreal in nature and could be seen in the tree canopy over the road. However, this inter-connected canopy has been destroyed due to the Masindi (Kisanja)-Park Junction oil road. The big troops of monkeys and baboons we used to see are no more. Only a few remain.
In addition, soon after the Kichumbanyobo gate, one would bypass River Sambia, a seasonal river. The river hosts crocodiles, which we would see. Today, a bridge has been built over the river. The wildlife we used to see cannot be seen anymore as the river is covered by the bridge.
Baboons on a road inside the park. These are subject to road accidents
A bridge, which is part of the critical oil infrastructure, connecting the south and north sectors of the park has also been built. Tourism operators requested that a suspended bridge be built. However, we were told that this bridge would be too weak.
I think a sturdier bridge to transport oil rigs, which are heavy, was needed. This bridge has eased transport between the two sectors. However, it has killed the ferry experience. Before, we would connect from the north to the south sector using a ferry. This allowed us to see scenic views of River Nile.
WATERFALL BOAT CRUISE
The waterfall boat cruise is a popular activity in the national park. The boat cruise starts from the Paraa dock and ends at the bottom of the falls.
The scenic distance between those two points is 17km. The boat ride used to take two hours. The boat captain used to ride slowly so that tourists could see the hippopotamuses, crocodiles, elephants, water birds and other biodiversity.
Because of the increased water levels of River Nile, attributed to climate change, the shallow areas where hippopotamuses used to wallow are no more. Fewer hippopotamuses can therefore be found trying to wallow in the North bank, which was the best viewing place for hippopotamuses.
Further, on the shores of River Nile in the North bank, crocodiles used to be seen sunbathing. They would open their mouths to cool off. However, the river bank on which they used to sunbathe was flooded due to climate change impacts. The crocodiles now hide in the thickets on the river bank, making them harder to see.
Some of the impacts of road construction in Murchsion Falls NP can be seen in the pictorial below.
In part 2 on Thursday next week, we will show the other changes to the park. If no action is taken to address the oil exploitation and climate change impacts, the park may lose its alluring features, hurting tourism.
Tourism is a billion-dollar industry in Uganda. The sector earned Uganda $.16 billion at one point. The sector also employs over 667,600 people. Being one of the largest and most visited Ugandan parks, Murchison Falls is not only important for conservation but for the survival of tourism.