After three weeks in Uganda and Rwanda, our fifteen Oakland Zoo expeditioners safely returned. We had an epic adventure! This blog is a general overview – with detailed blogs to come.
Eco-travel with the Oakland Zoo Conservation team is a bit different than most safaris. We do go on safari, of course, but we give each safari, each activity, and each day a dose of authenticity – a genuine experience of African culture and conservation. Our participants join us because they are passionate about conserving wildlife, and our partnerships in these countries allow them to jump in and do just that.
We started at the Ugandan Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe with a hug and tour from Henry Opio, an animal keeper who spent time at the Oakland Zoo earlier in the year. We brought Henry and his crew a much needed primate net that could be used for emergency capturing (apparently one monkey was quite the escape artist).
Onward, we spend some time with the Budongo Snare Removal Project . We walked through the gorgeous forest with the snare removal team, visited a school to exchange a few songs and dances, and listened to poetry written by their conservation club. We participated in an eye-opening meeting of ex-hunters who have renounced poaching to instead raise goats. A day I will never forget was when we set up a goat clinic for the participating villages. Under the leadership of Dr. Goodnight of the Oakland Zoo and Dr. Carol of the Budongo project, we de-wormed over 300 goats!
The beautiful Semliki Valley Wildlife Reserve and lodge were next, with cushy couches to take in views of the expansive savannah. Game drives were in an old-school open truck and delicious meals were served by lantern light at a giant dining room table.
The Kibale forest was our next adventure – and our crew enjoyed chimp treks and bird walks in the lush forests. Our special treat there was a visit to the Kibale Fuel Wood Project. It was inspiring to see how this innovative project protects forests. Highlights were attending their outdoor movie night, visiting their science center, dancing along with their talented dancers and learning how to make their colorful paper beads.
At Queen Elizabeth Park we lost count of the number of elephants, hippopotamus and birds we saw. Spending time with Dr. Ludwig Seifert, lion conservation expert, gave us insight into issues facing predators that live near pastoral communities. Seeing a pride of lions out in the bush and up in a tree was breathtaking.
We then crossed the border into Rwanda where our focus was the endangered Mountain Gorilla. Trekking to see these majestic great apes is a once in a life time experience – and spending time with the International Gorilla Conservation Project, the Mountain Gorilla Vet Project and the Virunga Artisans offered us the big picture once again.
We returned with more than great art and wildlife photos, but with great connections, insight and wisdom that can only be gained when you jump in!