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Monday, 22 March 2010

Untouched Uganda: Lake Opeta's People & Wildlife - Page 2

Written by Sam D'Cruz
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In the Northeastern region of Uganda lies a large, remote, seldom visited lake: Lake Opeta. The lake was designated a national conservation area in 2006 due to its numerous bird species— including the globally endangered shoebill (balaeniceps rex).


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The lake is only a few feet deep and the boat is powered by one man at the back with a stick, pushing into the mud below. Slow progress is made on the huge expanse of water. As soon as we left the shore, navigating the narrow waterways, birdlife became abundant— flying overhead and resting from the blistering heat in the coolness of the water.

 

Untouched Uganda: Lake Opeta's People & Wildlife, travel Lake Opeta, travel Uganda, Northeastern region of Uganda, Lake Opeta, numerous bird species, endangered shoebill, Balaeniceps rex, Okutot Island, Teso people, Karamojong Tribes, Sam D'CruzSimon took us to his home first. The floating island named Aliborit is a tiny grassy piece of land with a few solid areas near the center for walking. The island is inhabited by twelve people sharing five grass huts. There is a small plantation of crops including banana trees and potatoes; the potatoes don’t fare so well in the swampy ground, so they are started here and then later transported to the mainland to continue to mature. Fresh fish dry on bamboo racks in the hot mid-day sun.

 

People from surrounding villages used to survive on the islands as well, escaping the killing sprees of the Karamajong Tribes in 2003. Violence and constant raiding became part of normal life in the region and peace has only been restored in recent years. During my journey over the last few days through the Teso region to reach the Lake, I had heard several stories from local’s of friends and family they had seen slaughtered, bullets flying through villages and bodies piling up.

 

Untouched Uganda: Lake Opeta's People & Wildlife, travel Lake Opeta, travel Uganda, Northeastern region of Uganda, Lake Opeta, numerous bird species, endangered shoebill, Balaeniceps rex, Okutot Island, Teso people, Karamojong Tribes, Sam D'CruzSeeing fishermen from a neighboring island plying their trade is quite a sight. They furiously beat the water with long sticks to attempt to get the fish to swim right into the nets which have been carefully setup close by. The method is tried and tested and has been passed on from one generation to the next.

 

 

Shoebill

Untouched Uganda: Lake Opeta's People & Wildlife, travel Lake Opeta, travel Uganda, Northeastern region of Uganda, Lake Opeta, numerous bird species, endangered shoebill, Balaeniceps rex, Okutot Island, Teso people, Karamojong Tribes, Sam D'CruzThere is another prolific fisherman on the lake competing for the fish. Strange looking, standing around 4ft with a huge wedge shaped face giving the appearance of something from prehistoric times. It is the shoebill. One of the main aims of the day was to find the endangered shoebill and get high quality photographs of it to promote ecotourism.

 

The shoebill, with one genus and species, has been placed within its own family and has traditionally been grouped with the storks and/or herons. It was first spotted in 1850 by Gould, who saw the creature along the banks of the upper White Nile and called it "the most extraordinary bird I have seen for many years".

 

This species wasn’t classified until the 19th century when skins were brought to Europe. However, the bird was familiar to both ancient Egyptians and Arabs, who refer to the bird as abu markub, which means one with a shoe. There are Egyptian images depicting the Shoebill as well.

 

We headed to the first sight which we were told was 'nearby', but 3kms with one guy using a stick to push a boat takes some time!

 

We searched, but no shoebill was to be found within the vicinity of the first few islands, so we headed to the opposite side, skirting along the shore from a distance. No such luck.

 

We had yet another tip off from a fisherman who said he had sighted a collection of shoebills early in the day near Okutot Island. This was our last chance.

 

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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