In February, I set off for my first visit to Sub-Saharan Africa and my two-week Job experience at The Uganda Wildlife Education Centre. After a sleepless overnight flight, I landed in Entebbe, Uganda, where I was gratefully picked up by Harriot who gave me the first (of many) warm welcomes to Uganda – the pearl of Africa. A short journey later and I was walking past the iconic giraffe sculpture at the entrance to the zoo and meeting a friendly and enthusiastic bunch of zoo educators and other (equally enthusiastic) staff. This friendliness continued for my whole stay and everyone I met at UWEC were incredibly warm and made me feel part of the team immediately.
The UWEC site itself is a beautiful setting for a zoo, blessed with a range of natural habitats including forest, wetland and savannah landscapes. All providing valuable and biodiverse areas for native species to thrive. I spent many an evening watching the shore birds at the beach of Lake Victoria or vervet monkeys getting up to mischief around the zoo.
UWEC has a large remit, focusing its efforts on the rescue and rehabilitation of wildlife, conservation education, community engagement and supporting local enterprise, ecotourism and leisure. Through the JEP I was introduced to many of the staff teams at UWEC. I found visiting different teams very informative, learning about their work, discussing the challenges and high points of our respective roles and sharing our hopes for the future.
Over the two weeks of the program I was given the exciting opportunity to observe and take part in a range of diverse activities, both at the zoo and in the local area. I was able to spend time working with school groups, learning about waste management efforts, engaging local community groups and visiting the impressive Makanaga wetlands area. I was even able to try my hand at a few early morning birding sessions. The staff hold these sessions every Wednesday and Thursday to help brush up on identification and record the species observations around the zoo. Universal to all the elements of the program, was the warmth and passion of both the staff and communities for protecting and celebrating their local wildlife.
The biggest message I will take home is that zoo educators are a passionate bunch! They all get just as nerdy about fun wildlife facts or spotting a cool species. More importantly though, this experience reminded me that they may be halfway around world but no matter where they are, zoo educators are all working towards the same goal; building empathy, empowering people and fostering a connection with nature. The little part that we play in our own zoos or communities, add up to a greater impact felt around the world.
At the end of the experience, I was sad to leave Uganda and all its amazing sights and sounds, it really was a great experience! Taking part in the JEP allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the challenges facing communities and wildlife in different parts of the world. It offered a unique experience to reflect on my own practices and share ideas with international colleagues. If you want to do the same, I highly recommend you sign up to the JEP.
Special thanks to Ritah and Dorah for a fantastic experience and for making sure I was well looked after throughout my time at UWEC. To David Musingo and Francis Ruhinirwa for arranging and facilitating the JEP and thanks to all the other staff at UWEC for being a fun group to spend two weeks with!