Hello, Planet Earth,
My name is Moses Turinawe and I am the tourism warden of Uganda’s smallest park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. One of my duties is to inform the world about what Mgahinga offers, so it will be a pleasure to periodically update you on the Gorilla Highlands Experts platform.
With my Rwandan colleague Emma who is writing about gorilla tracking and ranger life we operate on the same volcanoes, just in different countries. We need to find a way to meet, Covid be damned! A friend of Miha is a friend of mine!
I will try to show you the other side not just of the mountains, but of our profession. My expertise goes beyond Mgahinga, as you will see shortly … After you get to know a tad about my background.
Teachers will Guide
I’m from around Bushenyi in western Uganda, a district very close to Queen Elizabeth National Park. In the third year of my secondary school we were taken to the park for two days where we experienced a Kazinga Channel boat ride, were shown lots of animals and had a conservation lecture. I have been passionate about wildlife ever since!
My family lacked money for school fees, so I ended up studying to become a secondary school teacher. But I only taught for half a year before some friends told me about the advertisement Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) had placed in newspapers and encouraged me to apply.
It wasn’t easy to get in! We were 50 candidates and they needed only 14 new park rangers. The committee liked my knowledge about animals and I convinced them that a trained teacher would be great at transferring information to tourists. They probably also liked my sunny personality; I always smile and feel happy. I placed in the top 3 and began my career in Queen Elizabeth National Park in 2001.
After 11 years as a ranger I was promoted to an Assistant Warden of Tourism and posted to Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth for one year. In 2013 great news came! I was to be promoted and transferred to Mgahinga. I loved it immediately. The only challenge was the weather, huh! From sweating in the savannah I was upgraded to freezing in the mountains!
Swahili is Tough
The life of a national park professional is full of challenges, opportunities and adventures… Allow me to give you an example of each.
After my recruitment, I was subjected to a 3-month paramilitary training. We were about 100 trainees, and it was hard on all of us. I was not used to harsh exercises, punishments, spending sleepless nights, or carrying heavy loads while running. To make matters worse, the instructors were only communicating in Swahili! We were told to keep our English in the bags that we came with. Asante sana! Quite a unique way to learn a language…
In 2009 I was selected with three other rangers to go to UK for two months, because Queen Elizabeth National Park had a twinning project with Queen Elizabeth Country Park in Britain. We had an 11-hour flight from Entebbe through Dubai to London… I never closed my eyes! I was too excited and wanted to keep following on the screen where we were passing, ha ha!
Many years ago, at a convention in Kabale, I met Miha and listened to his presentation about Lake Bunyonyi, tourism and surrounding communities. He shared very nice stories and I wondered how a muzungu (white person) could know so much about local history. We started interacting and he would often bring visitors to conduct various activities in Mgahinga. In 2017 he invited me for a Gorilla Highlands Bootcamp. We were a total of 28 participants drawn from different companies and organisations including UWA, Uganda Tourism Board, Ngamba Island, tour guides and volunteers. This event gave me an opportunity to interact with tourism partners and exposed me to the attractions and activities around Lake Bunyonyi. I learned to appreciate the role of the Gorilla Highlands initiative even more, and now I am a proud member of the Gorilla Highlands Expert team!
… And I probably shouldn’t leave you empty handed this time, right?
What is New in Mgahinga in March 2021
Well, in case you are wondering: our gorillas are doing well, thank you. They used to cross into Rwanda occasionally but for the last few years they have stayed put. We have one family, Nyakagezi, made of 3 silverbacks, 2 adult females, 2 sub adults, 1 juvenile and 1 infant. In the photo you can see their leader, Mark, photographed a week ago by Joshua Twinamatsiko, one of my guides.
Our most popular hiking destination is Mt Muhabura (4,127 m/ 13,540 ft), a dormant volcano with a lake at the top, representing quite a demanding day trip. To make it more accessible, we have been constructing an accommodation facility for 8 people along the hiking trail. This is expected to be completed this month and in July a campsite will be operational too.
We also fixed 495 meters of timber ladders and 71 meters of boardwalks along the Muhabura hiking trail. This was aimed at eliminating visitor complaints of rotten or missing infrastructure.
Finally, do you know that we have a new home in Kisoro Town? Located along Bunagana Road, opposite the central police station, this is not a little office anymore but a future visitor information centre. The renovation exercise is ongoing but the office is operating daily from 8am to 6pm. Our phone number is +256 393 228 567 and we can provide you with bank account numbers that can be used for non-cash payments. You can use your Visa/Mastercard as well!