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The Wildlife Clubs of Uganda

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The Wildlife Clubs of Uganda
In Uganda Jimmy Muheebwa-Muhoozi, born in Bushenyi District and serving as a tutor at a local primary teacher training college, founded local Wildlife Clubs to raise awareness about the plight of cranes and wetlands. With ICF support, Muheebwa-Muhoozi recently completed his M.Sc. thesis at Makerere University, a study of the impact of land use activities on the breeding success of the Grey Crowned Crane in southwest Uganda. Much of southwestern Uganda drains to Lake Victoria and surrounds via a series of grassy swamps and streams that rise in the Rwenzori and Virunga mountains. The region is densely settled and most of the wetlands have been developed for agriculture, while the erosive hillsides above have been cleared for cultivation of potatoes and other crops. The region also supports the largest number of breeding pairs of Grey Crowned Cranes in Uganda. The Grey Crowned Crane is the national bird of Uganda and features prominently on the national flag. They are well known throughout the country, and considered by many to be a symbol of wetland health.

During the course of his fieldwork, Muheebwa-Muhoozi came to realize that the future of cranes and other wildlife in Uganda depends not on laws and regulations, but on creating an entirely new relationship between people and wetlands. He organized pupils into four Wildlife Clubs in Kabale and Bushenyi Districts, and encouraged them to "adopt" and become caretakers of their local cranes and wetlands. He taught them about the interconnections of people, land, water, wetlands, and wildlife, organized debates to discuss new conservation ideas such as alternative farming practices and agroforestry, and helped them to dream up songs and dances about Grey Crowned Cranes, wetlands, and the importance of conservation. As the students fanned out into their community, sharing their knowledge with their parents and neighbors, Muheebwa-Muhoozi realized the potential of involving the Wildlife Clubs in affecting real change in Uganda. In 2000, he made a study-visit to the Kipsaina to exchange ideas and perspectives on conservation with Wanjala and his team. He returned to southwestern Uganda to work with school groups and more deeply explore the role of Wildlife Clubs in crane and wetland conservation.

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