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World Wetlands Day. A visit to Mabamba Wetland, a Ramsar Site in Uganda

Updated: Apr 10, 2023

World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on 2nd February. The celebration of this day aims at raising global awareness about the important roles, wetlands play for the people and our planet. The day also marks the date in which the Ramsar Convention on wetlands of International Importance was signed on 2nd February in 1971 in the city of Ramsar in Iran.

This year’s call to action is an appeal to invest human, financial, and political capital to restore the wetlands that have been degraded and to prevent the existing ones from disappearing. This year 2nd February is also the very first time the United Nations is recognizing it as a UN international day following its adoption by the General Assembly on 30th August 2021.

As an environmental activist working under my non-profit organization, Green Lens International I visited one of the Ramsar sites in Uganda for birding together with my colleague Raymond Kagumire of Conservation Crew. We visited Mabamba for birding and to document its beauty and the role it plays in the conservation of many bird species and its other ecological support to the lake and the surrounding communities.

Jacana Bird flying over Mabamba Wetland. Photo credit: Nelly Salvatore Green Lens International / Environmental protection birding

Jacana Bird flying over Mabamba Wetland. Photo credit: Nelly Salvatore

Mabamba Bay Wetland System is a very important bird area that was designated as a Ramsar site on 15th September 2006. Mabamba is an extensive marsh stretching through a narrow and long bay fringed with papyrus towards the main body of Lake Victoria. It is the only swamp close to Kampala that hosts the globally-threatened shoebill (Balaeniceps rex). Mabamba is also home to about 190,000 birds and hosts approximately 38% of the global population of the Blue Swallow as well as the Papyrus Yellow Warbler, a globally threatened bird among other birds of global concern.

A shoebill Stork at Mabamba Wetland. Photo credit: Nelly Salvatore

A shoebill Stork at Mabamba Wetland. Photo credit: Nelly Salvatore

The wetland supports the local communities as a source of fish for home and commercial consumption, raw material for local crafts, building materials, water for domestic and livestock use among others. However, the wetland is threatened by rising temperatures due to global warming, hunting, and poaching of birds and other animals like sitatunga and the shoebill. Water hyacinth invasion and farming activities on the showers of Lake Victoria especially flower farms that use agrochemicals also threaten the wetland ecosystem.

A local fisherman showing off his catch (Mamba / Lungfish). Photo credit: Nelly Salvatore

A local fisherman showing off his catch (Mamba/Lungfish). Photo credit: Nelly Salvatore

We accessed the bay through Nakawuka and Kasanje after branching off from Kitende along Entebbe Road 60kms from Ntinda. Upon arrival, we were received by young men who are very passionate about taking tourists around in exchange for a fee. You can decide to book a guide or just move around with boat riders who are also very familiar with the birding activities with some knowledge about some bird species. Our main intention of the visit was to photograph some birds most especially the shoebill.

Nelly Salvatore Photographer, Shooting the birds. Photo credit: Raymond Kagumire

Shooting the birds. Photo credit: Raymond Kagumire

We booked a small boat that runs on a small engine and also paid 10,000 Ugx per head to the site managers. We got the boat at around 100,000 ugx. The ride was very peaceful and entertaining.

Finding the shoebill can be quite challenging. We first came across one shoebill which was a bit inside the wetland. By the time we navigated our way in, the bird flew away. Our boat riders intimated that the young ones tend to be shy. We then moved around to see if we could find another one. Lucky enough our boat rider spotted one which was too close and very confident. We got a great opportunity to photograph it and we even managed to get very close to it as it stood still looking back at us.

Tourists watching the Shoebill at Mabamba bay-Green Lens International

Tourists watching the Shoebill at Mabamba Wetland. Photo credit: Nelly Salvatore

The great thing about the shoebill is that it is very rare for one to visit Mabamba and fail to spot it because the boat riders work collectively to ensure that whoever sees it first, informs their colleagues about where it has been spotted. This is normally done while getting into the wetland as others are coming out. Whenever it is spotted, they ensure that it stays in one place such that their colleagues carrying tourists can easily find it. The boat riders approach the scene quietly by switching off the engine boats and also encourage the tourists to keep it quiet such that it stays in one place. The best time to spot the shoebill is morning hours when they get out to feed. Shoebills mainly feed on Mamba (Lung fish), frogs, snakes, young crocodiles among other wetland animals.

The shoebill is now a very important bird to the community and they work collectively with the authorities such as Uganda Wild life Authority such that it remains protected since it brings in many tourists every day. this brings a lot of income to the locals hence encouraging the conservation of the wetland, the shoe bill and many other bird species.

Purple Heron at Mabamba Bay. Photo credit: Nelly Salvatore Photography. Birding, environmental activisit, Climate action, green lens

Purple Heron at Mabamba Bay. Photo credit: Nelly Salvatore

We also managed to take pictures of many other bird species that we managed to spot. The most common bird species that are easy to spot while at Mabamba include the Malachite kingfisher, Shoebill, Egrets, Egyptian goose, Common sandpiper, Banded Lapwing, Purple heron, Yellow-billed ducks, Jacanas among others. Visit our gallery for more pictures and together let’s protect our wetlands and our environment in general.

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