African Zoos and Aquariums Gathering in Uganda

In May 2009, the uShaka Sea World team had the opportunity to attend the annual African Association for Zoos and Aquariums (PAAZAB) conference. For the first time in 20 years the conference was held outside of South Africa...

By Judy Mann , director of Sea World at uShaka Marine World , South Africa.

– making it the first truly African zoo and aquarium conference! Hosted by the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) and held at the Imperial Beach Resort on the banks of Lake Victoria in Entebbe, the conference was both valuable and enjoyable. Usually a conference is judged by the number of attendees, the number of papers and the duration of the networking events. Despite fewer than 50 attendees, fewer presentations than in previous years and earlier nights, the conference was amazing. Those who made the effort to attend the conference were rewarded by very warm welcomes from the Ugandans, meaningful interactions with other delegates, inspiring presentations by people working under difficult circumstances and two fantastic field trips – one to the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary and one to the UWEC zoo. What the conference lacked in size, it made up for in a genuine African spirit of collaboration, communication and enthusiasm.

The post conference tour was simply AMAZING. After the 10-hour drive from Entebbe to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, through subsistence agriculture, huge tracts of obvious deforestation, past small roadside villages on terrible ‘roads’ complete with crazy drivers, we were ready to give up on African conservation completely.  However, the warm welcome at the Buhoma Community Camp, the sun setting over the legendary forest and the hundreds of incredible bird calls were all that we needed to get our enthusiasm back. The next morning, after a short introduction and some stern words from our guide Augustine, who informed us that if we were not fit enough to climb the mountain we would be sent home to do more ‘joggings’, we set off, with an entourage of porters, guards and guides, to find the gorillas.

After a walk of about an hour we were told that the gorillas were in sight. We quietly, with constrained excitement, approached a young male, who sat in the path. Dr Mark Penning (CEO and WAZA new President) [WAZA is World Association of Zoos and Aquariums] moved to sit, about 5m away, also on the path. The male calmly approached Mark, sat down and, staring intently into Mark’s eyes, placed his hand on Mark’s shoulder. You could have cut the emotion in the group with a knife as we all watched this incredible incident take place. Words cannot explain our feeling of wonder, amazement, joy and sadness, as we witnessed this encounter between a wild mountain gorilla and a person. We saw the rest of the group, more young males, a mother and her eight month old youngster and the huge silverback, all calmly going about their daily routine of eating, sleeping, walking and grooming. It was an amazingly emotional experience that reaffirmed our commitment at uShaka Sea World to conservation. Africa needs Africans to care enough to do something to help conserve the amazing ecosystems and animals that make up this crazy, mixed up and ultimately incredible continent.

The uShaka Sea World team returned home with new commitment to conservation and renewed energy for our work. We are privileged to work in an industry that cares – we are proud to work for an organisation that translates caring into action for conservation!

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