Thursday, August 11th, 2022
Last week, we shared the blog, Murchison Falls National Park: Ravaged by oil and climate change.
In the blog, we discussed the unfortunate changes that the park has undergone as oil infrastructure in the park takes shape.
This week, we relate how climate change has affected the park. The impacts were narrated by a tour operator who has been visiting the park for nearly two decades.
Hippopotamuses are interesting animals. They do not have sweat glands and rely on external conditions to cool off. As such, they spend hot days in shallow water and feed at night when it is cool.
When I visited Murchison Falls National Park on July 25, 2022, I noticed something peculiar: the waters levels of River Nile, which flows through the park on its way to South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt, had increased compared to 2019 levels. The river had also burst its banks. Previously sandy and shallow areas where hippos wallowed were covered in water!
Why did the water levels of River Nile increase? On May 1, 2020, Hon. Sam Cheptoris, Uganda’s Minister for Water and Environment, addressed the country. He observed that due to heavy rainfall, the water of levels of Lake Victoria and the River Nile system had increased. The minister noted that as at April 30, 2020, the lake’s water levels had increased to 13.32 metres.
“This … rise … is only 0.08 meters away from the highest level ever recorded,” the minister said.
The minister listed the sub-sectors that would be affected by the increased water levels including hydropower stations, water transport and settlements among others.
Biodiversity and tourism were not mentioned. When I visited Murchison Falls NP on July 25, 2022, I realised that this was a great oversight. How?
Murchison falls is one of the biggest attractions in Murchison Falls NP. In the park, the Nile squeezes through an eight-metre gorge and forms the 45-metre Murchison falls. The falls are beautiful and powerful. The sound that they make is awe-inspiring.
To get a better look and feel of the falls, tourists take a waterfall boat cruise. The cruises start from two docks in the northern and southern banks of the park. Tourists decide which dock to use. The boat cruise stops about 200 metres from the bottom of the falls. At this point, the boat cannot go any further. Previously, tourists could leave the boat at this point. They would step onto a rock, view and hear the mighty falls. This rock was submerged by water and the beautiful touristic experience of getting as near to the falls as possible was taken away.
Four hundred and fifty-one (451): This is the number of registered bird species found in Murchison Falls NP. Of these, there is a curious small bird called the rock pratincole. The bird, a native African one, lives on rocks found in fast flowing rivers. The bird also breeds by laying eggs in rock depressions. Rocks are integral to the survival and well-being of these intra-African migrant birds, which feed on insects. The rock at the bottom of the Murchison Falls was an important habitat for the rock pratincole. Viewing the bird was also a pleasure for tourists. It was enthralling to see these small birds launch their flight from the rock, quickly pick flies near the falls all the while avoiding being washed away. With the rock at the bottom of the falls having been submerged, we didn’t see the rock pratincoles when I visited Murchison Falls on July 25, 2022 with tourists. Yet viewing the rock pratincole is one of the tour experiences that we widely market.
Another bird of interest in Murchison Falls NP is the red-throated bee-eater. This tropical bird is found in only 21 countries in Africa, Uganda inclusive. The bird is small and has a distinctive beautiful red throat. It feeds on bees. The bird nests/breeds near streams and rivers among others. In Uganda, the bird breeds in tall sandbanks on Lake Albert, the Kazinga channel and below Murchison Falls. Needless to say, the bird needs dry, and not flooded, conditions to breed.
In the Nyamusika plateau, nature created the perfect breeding grounds for the red throated bee-eaters and other birds. Nyamusika plateau is a clay-sandy rock that leads to Murchison Falls. The rock is soft, which enables the red-throated bee-eater and pied kingfishers to make holes (nests) in the rock and breed. Because the rock is cliff-like in nature, predators such as snakes that would eat the birds’ eggs find it hard to glide to the birds’ nests.
Unfortunately, climate change-induced flooding has affected the plateau, making it hard for the birds to nest.
Climate change has affected habitats and breeding grounds for key species in Murchison Falls NP. Ironically, oil extraction is planned in the park with trial drills expected to start this December. Burning (using) of fossil fuels is the biggest contributor to climate change.
With oil extraction in the park being planned, it can be said that the park is going to provide a resource that could kill and bury it for good.