Saturday July 26 2014

Karamoja’s haven for unique game

One of the bandas constructed in Pian Upe Game

One of the bandas constructed in Pian Upe Game Reserve to accommodate vistors. PHOTOS by David Mafabi  

By David Mafabi

When it comes to tourism destinations, Pian Upe Game Reserve stands out. With Uganda’s affluence of attractions, a single visit to Pian Upe Game Reserve is not enough for one to ascertain the disclosures this reserve offers. This natural resource is a conservation area in the Karamoja sub-region of northeastern Uganda and it is regarded as the second largest conservation protected area in Uganda after Murchison Falls.
The southern part of the reserve was gazetted as Dabasien Animal Sanctuary in 1958, a government-led project to convert land just south of River Girik meant for agriculture that was threatening the viability of wildlife conservation in the entire area. In 1964, the area expanded northward and was renamed Pian Upe Game Reserve.

The reserve covers an area of about 2,788km2 to the north of mountain Elgon and it is now under the management of Mountain Elgon Conservation Area. It lies in a semi-arid county, which usually receives rainfall in April and more considerable light rainfall from June to early September.
The reserve is covered by wooded grassland and is home to two pastoralist tribes from which it gets its name: the Pian, being part of a sub group of the Karamoja, and the Upe, being a Kalenjin speaking people more widely known as the Pakot within Kenya and Uganda.
From Amudat, in the heart of the game reserve, a savanna grassland extends in all directions, far beyond the gazetted area towards horizons outlined by distant ranges and Kadama hills. The hills, that appear like a sheet spread across the rocks, overlook expansive grassy plains dotted with big rocky outcrops and flanked by steep-jagged mountains with the summit ridges of Kadama Mountain.
The predominant cover of mixed acacia commipphara savanna is essentially Uganda’s extension of an Eastern savanna encompassing much of northern Kenya and amboseli-Tsava mkomazi complex of reserves on the border between Kenya and Tanzania. Providing dramatic contrast to the dry scrubby plains of Pian Upe is Mount Kadama, an isolated range of spectacularly tortured turrets and bleak volcanic plugs that rises to an altitude of 3,068M on the reserve’s eastern boundary.

Threat to the reserve

Although Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) gives the community 30 per cent of the proceeds from tourism in the reserve to discourage poaching, it is reported that the reserve continues to be threatened by the unchecked encroachment in the area by herdsmen from Kenya. According to the area conservation manager, Adonia Bintorwa, the Turkana and Pokot nomadic cattle keepers cross into Uganda through porous borders and drive their animals into the game reserve, hunt wildlife for game meat, cut down trees for settlement and scare away the valuable birds and animals that are a major attraction for tourists.
“Many of the birds and animals that were once attracting large numbers of tourists have now crossed over to the Kenyan side, leading to a decline in the number of tourists visiting the region in search of these unique bird and animal species,” Bintorwa says.
Ben Otto, the chairman Uganda Wild Authority Board, condemned this and warned the Pokot and Turkana to stop crossing into the game reserves for water and grass, calling upon the local people to be vigilant. The authority, however, will have to put more stringent measures to save the tourism in the reserve.

Some of the animals in the reserve

The reserve habours a number of mammals such as leopards, Cheetahs, spotted hyenas, and a few lions. According to David Muduuli, the country director Karimojong Overland Safaris, a German tourist organisation that is managing the game reserve, among the ungulate species are the bur hell’s Zebra, buffalo, eland, harte beast, greater Kudu, Topi, Orib, Dik-dik and Uganda’s last population of roam antelope.
There are also vervet monkeys, olive baboons, the far localised pata monkeys and the black-backed and side-stripped jackals.
According to the Muduuli, the reserve contains one of the most exciting fauna of any Ugandan Game reserve with 44 species of mammal, several of which are (in Uganda) restricted to Pian Upe and Karamoja Sub-region.
The Mt Elgon Area Conservation manager, Adonia Bintorwa, says the reserve also boasts an extensive bird list of 242 species confirmed and 11 unconfirmed, second only in Uganda to Queen Elizabeth National park.
“The Pian Upe is the only Game reserve that has the Roan antelope. Besides this we also have Mountain Red buck, the errand, bush bucks, water bucks, ostriches and birds like the rare shoe bill, clip springer and many other birds,” Muduuli says.

How to reach there

Location. The park headquators are at Murujore on Mbale-Moroto Road about 90Km from Mbale town. You will know you have entered the reserve shortly after passing through Chepsukunya trading centre, after about two-hours’ drive.
Where to stay. Four bandas exist in the park headquarters and there are very many lodges located just kilometers from the reserve headquarters.
Charges. To access the reserve, foreigners pay $5 (about Shs12,000), non residents pay $10 (about Shs26,000) and Ugandans and East Africans pay Shs2,500.
For guided tours per walk, non resident foreigners pay $30 (about Shs78,000 )and foreign residents pay $15 (about Shs39,000 )while Ugandans and East Africans pay Shs10,000. Vehicle hire is at $30 (about Shs78,000)