Saving African grey parrots to boost tourism

Uchiyama Takayuki

On September 27, representatives from various nations gathered in Bali, Indonesia, to celebrate the World Tourism Day. This year’s theme focused on ‘rethinking tourism as a key element of recovery’. 

Undeniably, the tourism sector remains one of the fastest-growing economic sectors in Uganda contributing about 6.2 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product and employing 589,300 people (3.6 percent of total employment). 

However, data from Uganda Bureau of Statistics and the World Bank indicates that the outbreak of Covid-19 has had devasting impacts on the tourism industry.

Sustainable tourism in maintaining nature; wild ecosystems, animals, birds, and plants, plays an intrinsic role in shaping human security, livable climate, contributing towards creating alternative livelihood options, and promoting poverty alleviation and social inclusion, as well as landscape conservation. 

Yet in this lifetime, the average number of species of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles has decreased by nearly 70 percent and continues to disappear before our eyes. In many ways, our pursuit of development has neglected our embeddedness in nature. Our development patterns are driving human insecurity – along with health threats, increased food insecurity, and disasters, which are increasing in frequency and intensity. We must ‘build forward better’ from this pandemic where people and the planet live in balance.

Certainly, there is now well-founded hope for the future and the need to rethink competitiveness and resilience models of the tourism industry. One of these is the implementation of ‘Save the African Grey Parrots Project’, a four-year grassroot technical cooperation by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Chubu University in Japan and Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre (UWEC).

This technical cooperation includes establishing a grey parrot conservation centre, strengthening its functioning, and building a parrot conservation model by improving the livelihoods of the local population in Kibale National Park and Ngamba Island in Entebbe, Uganda.

Wild grey parrots are in high demand as pets and a great export. However, overhunting combined with deforestation has led to a decline in their population. A ban on commercial trade of wild parrots was put in place in 2016 during the 17th Washington Convention Conference, but still, an estimate of about 40,000 parrots are still captured illegally. 

In order to avoid the extinction of endangered species, it is necessary to protect the habitats of the remaining wild animals, by establishing a protection and reproduction centre to work with local people living in the reintroduced areas to fully appreciate the value of parrots as tourism resources and actively involving them. In doing so, it will reverse deforestation trends and boost the population of endangered wildlife like African grey parrots, among others, and rebuild the tourism industry by broadening community participation in the tourism value chain and effectively harnessing Uganda’s rich natural and cultural heritage.

There is a growing recognition that the days of taking as much as possible from the earth for a ‘quick profit’ are now over. Remarkably, the civil society and private sector are starting to play a more active role in the protection and restoration of our natural world. 

I, therefore, call upon all stakeholders to join in and drive forward this profound cultural shift. This much is clear: new efforts to protect key species and restore ecosystems will help us to break through to that sustainable, livable future for all.

Mr Uchiyama Takayuki is the chief representative of JICA Uganda Office