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An Intimate Safari at UWEC

By Daniel Jones and Joy King

My fiancée Joy and I kicked off our first week in Uganda with a visit to the Uganda Wildlife Education Center, or UWEC, in Entebbe. Though seemingly similar,the UWEC is not a zoo in the traditional sense.Yes there are animals in enclosures, and you can buy souvenirs or enjoy a bite to eat,but the scope extends far beyond entertainment alone. Having emigrated from the U.S., our experience of a zoo was always a detached one; viewing exotic wildlife from across wide concrete barriers, lacking a genuine interaction with nature.

The UWEC immediately sets itself apart. The layout is remarkably spacious and inviting, and a respect for the environment isclearly emphasized. You get a sense that this is a world for you to explore and discover on your own.The enclosures are designed to simulate the animals’ natural environment, including wetlands, savannah, and forest. Further, the UWEC does not purchase or capture animals for captivity, but rescues them from poachers, illegal trade, or accidents. Its purpose is education and appreciation of the diverse animals and ecosystems of Uganda.An ostrich greeted us and posed for a picture. We spent time conversing with African grays. Lazy lions relaxed in the shade, a hyena did the same; all enjoying as we were the beautiful climate that defines the pearl of Africa.

If we had a hope for our visit to the UWEC it was to spend time with the beautiful African white rhino. Our first sighting of these rare creatures was from quite a distance, across a large field. Undeterred, we explored the dirt foot paths around the giant enclosure, small enough that you may hardly think to take them. We hiked deeper into the foliage, happy just to admire the flora around us.While stopped to take a picture I heard Joy’s voice urging me to join her up ahead. I pushed through the low hanging branches to find her in awe,crouching mere feet from a pair of quietly grazing rhinos. We stood mesmerized, without another soul in sight.

Happy to call it a day after such an amazing experience, we nonetheless realized there was much more to discover. Passing fish eagles and clapping shoebills we made our way to Chimpanzee Island. Arriving at feeding time, we were able to observe thechimps collecting their lunch. One was batting the water with a branch, enjoying the ripples.Furtherdown the path we encountered the century-old Elder tree, its massive trunkand canopy appearingprehistoric and otherworldly. From where we stood, we glimpsedthe shores of Lake Victoria, andsilhouetted against the cloudy sky the distinctive humps of two grazing camels. Were they walking the beach unattended? Sure enough,we found the camels casually munching away on the tall grass that lined the beach. We approached slowly until we were within feet of the lanky dromedaries. They seemed as inquisitive as we were, and marched right up to my snapping shutter. Later, after a playful roll in the sand,their handler arrived to casually usher them up the bank to children awaiting rides.

Having lingered longer than expected, we quickly took in the pythons, crocodiles, and playful otters on our walk towards the exit. As a final treat, we found an entire family of monkeys playing in the grass around the parking lot. These curious creatures were not residents of the UWEC, but were simply enjoying an afternoon out in the land they call home; the perfect conclusion to a splendid day.

The UWEC was opened in 1952 as a reception center for wildlife at risk, and grew into a National Zoo ten years later.During the political upheaval of the 1970’s the UWEC fell upon hard times, but was reinvigorated in the 1990’s when the New York Zoological Society suggested that it be turned into an education and tourism facility. Since then the UWEC has grown to be one of the most respected wildlife education institutions in Africa, now breeding and reintroducing endangered animals to the wild. At 30,000 USh for foreigners, this attraction is a bargain and an important destination for anyone here to enjoy southern Uganda, and all it has to offer.

For more information, please contact:
UWEC, Lugard Avenue, Entebbe
Tel: (041) 4256041 / (041) 4320520
Email: uweced@infocom.co.ug. Website: www.uweczoo.org