Conservation and ecotourism in Kibale National Park, Uganda
The aim of this study was to assess the potential of ecotourism in Kibale National Park, the environmental impact of visitor activities, the characteristics of visitors and visits, the perception and attitudes of local communities towards conservation and development of ecotourism, and the status of environmental interpretation in Uganda. The environmental evaluation was attempted using a combination of methods developed in the USA. Selfcompletion questionnaires were used to obtain information on visitors and the characteristics of visits, and direct household interviews were used for the survey of local communities' perception and attitudes. Information on the status of environmental interpretation was sought using the postal-survey method. It was found that Kibale National Park has the potential for development of ecotourism. The number of visitors has been rising annually since ecotourism was introduced in 1992 and was estimated to reach 5 000 in 1995. As a result of the continuing increase in visitor numbers, the camping sites and the nature trails are already being degraded. More than 90 per cent of the visitors come from overseas and only a small proportion are Ugandans. The visitors come on pre-planned tour packages mainly to view the chimpanzees. The common feeling among the visitors is that the facilities and services currently offered in Kibale are of low standard. Several proposals have been put forward for improvement of services and provision of additional facilities. The need to control visitor numbers and to maintain a sound environment in the Park has been discussed and immediate management measures required to reduce further deterioration of the camping sites and the nature trails have been recommended. The study has also revealed that local communities in Kibale still obtain most of their forest products from the Park. Although the majority (about 80%) support conservation and development of ecotourism, they have a poor perception of the Park's existence and value. Eviction of some families from the Park a few years ago and the gradual loss of traditional rights of access and use of resources following the establishment of Kibale as a National Park, has resulted in negative attitudes among some sections of the local communities. It is recommended that local communities should be educated about the value of the Park and the importance of conserving its resources. Moreover, there is a need to involve them directly in all the stages of future planning and management of conservation programmes and ecotourism development in Uganda's protected areas. It has also become clear that the concept of environmental interpretation is little understood in Uganda and the practice is generally poor. It was found that Kibale and other national parks lack facilities for proper interpretation. The Park ranger-guides are often employed and assigned to interpretive work without prior training on interpretation. It is recommended that all national parks and other protected areas where ecotourism is being promoted alongside conservation should set up proper environmental interpretation systems. In addition, there is a need for establishing a national programme of environmental interpretation to facilitate environmental education and development of ecotourism in Uganda.