Mihingo Lodge Conservation Run
By Iddy Farmer
Fancy taking a run where the spectators are zebras, where Vervet monkeys watch inquisitively from the trees as you puff and pant your way along paths that are laden with animal tracks? On the 10th May this year, fifty people took to the roads and animal paths on community land along the border of Lake Mburo National Park. Apart from testing their running prowess against Topi and warthogs, everyone was running in support of the Mihingo Conservation & Community Development Foundation (MCCDF).
MCCDF operates along the eastern border of Lake Mburo, aiming to reduce human-wildlife conflict and to link communities into the benefits of living alongside wildlife. In 2008, the biggest clan of spotted hyenas in the Park were poisoned. This highlighted to the lodge owners the need for a project to tackle the numerous human-wildlife issues in the area; thus MCCDF was born. Projects range from a highly successful livestock compensation scheme, which has prevented the poisoning of leopards and hyenas, to the construction of classrooms for St. Stevens primary school. Where hyenas whooping calls used only to be an occasional night-time noise, they now fill the valleys around Mihingo as the respite in the practice of poisoning livestock carcasses has allowed them to grow in number once again.
In the name of these projects, both young and old competitors brought themselves out to Lake Mburo for a weekend of wildlife, conservation and exercise. Many arrived on the Saturday before the event, camping at the Mihingo campsite, set up especially for the race. With a big cooked dinner that evening under a glorious, starry sky, participants turned in early from the campfire, in preparation for the next morning.
The 21km race contained the stiffest competition, with bets being taken over the top finishers. Professional Ugandan runner, Kenneth Kannyeke, took the top spot, sailing across the finish seemingly as fast as he had left the start. Only five minutes behind arrived one of Mihingo’s own and third was also taken by a Mihingo runner (good job too, as the bet was, if they didn’t beat their boss who was also running, they would have had to sleep in the pig sty!). The 5km race was dominated by the younger generation, with the top five spots taken by under 10’s. Students sponsored to run from St. Steven’s school took the top three places; perhaps a future world champion is lurking there! The 10km race saw a close finish between the top two but the last two were the last to return out of the entire event, after turning their run into a nature walk. Who could blame them, with so much wildlife around! But return they did, no thanks to the zebras that decided to lick up some of the posho that had been laid down as route markings!
The race routes weaved through valleys, over ridges and even out on a peninsular that protrudes into Lake Kacheera. The 10km route also passed through Rurambira Primary School, another school MCCDF works with. Wildlife spotted en route included zebra, impala, topi, warthog, vervet monkeys, dwarf mongoose and a plethora of bird life.
The event raised over 6 million shillings for MCCDF, which would not have been possible without the help of a few sponsors. Coca Cola donated both water and soda for the event, which was much needed by runners after their race! The cattle keeping culture of the area was maintained, with a set of cow horns for each winner kindly donated by Banana Boat. Mihingo lodge itself sponsored the printing costs of fliers and posters, as well as the provision of staff and use of the land for the camp.
There is still much work to do to ensure wildlife continues to exist beyond the Park boundaries. So, if you missed this last run be sure to join us on the next one, on 8th May 2016 and enjoy running with the wildlife you are helping to conserve. If running is not for you, then bring your bike and take part in the inaugural bush bike even due to be held on the weekend of the 29th November. With camping, races and an obstacle course there is something for everyone to enjoy!